Douglas County Commission to consider permits for testing in West Gardner Solar project

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Douglas County commissioners on Wednesday will consider approving permits for NextEra Energy Resources to conduct testing in Palmyra Township related to the West Gardner Solar project.

The company seeks four temporary business use permits that would allow “utility-scale solar-related testing activity,” including boring, pile load testing and electrical resistivity testing, according to a memo in the commission’s agenda.

Ultimately, the company would like to build “Photovoltaic (PV) solar arrays capable of generating up to 320 megawatts (MW) of clean, renewable energy and 128 megawatts (MW) of battery energy storage,” according to the project website. NextEra estimates a $320 million project investment and $40 million in tax revenue over the first 35 years of the project.

This map shows the approximate location of the proposed testing:

Map shows the approximate location of testing for which NextEra Energy Resources seeks permits. (Douglas County Commission agenda materials)

Commissioners in March deferred the permits, requesting more information from the company about archaeological resources and a history of NextEra-related projects in unincorporated Douglas County.

“In the initial review of this application, staff was made aware that the subject properties and their surroundings may be of archaeological significance,” County Planner Karl Bauer wrote in the memo in the agenda materials.

“According to Dr. Nicholaus Pumphrey, Vice-Chair of the Heritage Conservation Council, Palmyra Township is one of the least surveyed areas for archaeological sites in Douglas County,” Bauer’s memo continues. “Because of the numerous streams in the vicinity of the testing activity, the likelihood of encountering Native American sites and artifacts is quite high. Additionally, the Santa Fe Trail was located close to the properties, and there is a potential for encountering artifacts related to it, as well. An archaeological review is not a requirement for a temporary business use permit.”

NextEra has added a plan for “unanticipated discoveries,” which states that the project archaeologist will inspect waste piles from the boring, and work will cease immediately if there is any indication of the presence of cultural materials, animal bone or possible human remains.

Workers would avoid the area of the location until a discovery can be evaluated, and if it is determined to be a possible cultural resource, the project’s tribal relations manager will coordinate with tribal points of contact, according to the plan.

If they find any human remains, they will immediately stop work within 50 feet and stop all ground-disturbing activities within a minimum of 100 feet of the discovery, according to the plan, which details procedures following any such discovery. If any human remains are removed from the site, “work will not recommence until permission is granted in writing by the Kansas Historical Society in coordination with the Unmarked Burial Sites Preservation Board and/or appropriate law enforcement agencies,” the plan states.

If the commission approves the permits with conditions, as staff recommends, that does not guarantee that they will approve a future application for a solar farm, according to the agenda.

The Douglas County Commission will meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 21 at the historic county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. See the full meeting agenda at this link.

The commission will also have a work session starting at 4 p.m. Wednesday on the five-year impact of intensive care coordination, one of the county’s behavioral health initiatives.

The commission hears public comment in person at the courthouse and virtually via Zoom during its regular meetings. Find the Zoom meeting link and instructions on this page. Meeting recordings are later uploaded to the county’s YouTube channel,

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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