Gov. Sam Brownback is defending his decision to make nearly 11,000 square miles of the Flint Hills off-limits to wind farm expansion as part of his push to make the Kansas tallgrass prairie a premier tourist destination.
Brownback this month expanded an existing "Tallgrass Heartland" area of the Flint Hills from Riley and Pottawatomie counties in the north to the state's southern border. That more than doubled the off-limits area that former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius established in 2005.
During a Flint Hills summit Tuesday in Elmdale, Brownback said he wants the area to become the "tallgrass prairie playground" of the world.
"We are focused on long-term economic growth. And I believe this opportunity for us in the Flint Hills and tourism represents significant near-term and long-term economic growth," Brownback said.
Cowley County officials and commissioners had been working with BP Wind Energy to build a wind farm in the northeast corner of the county. They and other county officials and landowners from the region told The Eagle last week that they were upset that Brownback did not consult with them before announcing the expansion.
Brownback said BP Wind Energy already had said it was considering ending the Cowley County project before his decision was announced.
Karl Pierce, BP's business development director, told The Eagle that the company was having trouble finding a utility partner for the project. Pierce also said a final decision hadn't been made before Brownback revealed his plan but that the governor's announcement "helped us make our decision."
Cowley County's state legislative delegation sent a letter of protest to Brownback, saying that excluding them from his decision "appears to fly in the face of the concept of open and transparent government."
Brownback said that he would work with Cowley County "in any way" and that he hoped to announce soon a potential expansion of BP operations elsewhere in Kansas.
There are eight wind farms in Kansas and four more in various stages of planning. Most of those are in central and western Kansas, where there is better wind than in the Flint Hills.