By OLIVIA BERGMEIER
In a turn of events, while numerous Gypsum residents sat in attendance at the Saline County Commission meeting on Nov. 14, Plus Power retracted its application for a conditional use permit or CUP.
Plus Power requested a continuance for its appeal of the Saline County Planning and Zoning Committee's decision on Nov. 7. County commissioners denied the request to delay the appeal hearing to next year.
The Saline County Commission prepared to hear the appeal and make a decision about the battery storage facility for Gypsum.
All commissioners attended the meeting — Chairman Robert Vidricksen, Vice Chairman Monte Shadwick, remotely, Secretary Rodger Sparks, James Weese and Joe Hay.
Tim Hamilton, the Saline County planning and zoning director, said he usually would let the commissioners discuss amongst themselves and answer questions, but the applicants decided to make a statement.
Hamilton yielded his time to Ben Weisel, the permit director at Mountain Peak Energy Storage, LLC, acting as Plus Power, who approached the podium.
"Mountain Peak Energy Storage, LLC, respectfully withdraws its conditional use permit application," Weisel said.
He continued that this was a difficult decision for the company due to its investment and planning of the project for several years.
"It's become clear to us that the county permit application in its present form does not have a path forward to obtaining the necessary approvals," Weisel said. "It is for this reason we are withdrawing our proposal."
Weisel then thanked the commissioners for their time and consideration of the project and said he hoped to see future discussions about the benefits of battery storage facilities for the community.
County Commission Chairman Robert Vidricksen spoke first.
"We wish to thank you very much for your interest in Saline County, sorry it didn't work out," Vidricksen said. "Your professionalism is appreciated very much, and good luck."
There were no other comments about the subject from the other commissioners.
Technology grants and Expo Center updates
Before the appeal hearing, the Saline County Commission tackled a consent agenda, an action item and some informational items, beginning with technology grants for the community.
In August this year, county commissioners approved a $100,000 Digital Equity Grant funded by the county's American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, funds to distribute to community projects focused on technology access.
"A review committee consisting of Rene Drexler, Salina Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, Kimberlyn Jones, Kansas Commerce digital equity program manager and Eric Norris, Manhattan Public Library Director, met via Zoom on Oct. 24, to discuss the applications," said Saline County Public Information Officer Melissa McCoy.
McCoy presented five grants the review committee considered.
● $20,630 to the Salina Area United Way
To fund equipment for free access points for individuals to use the internet and digital devices for school work, job searching, training and other activities.
● $16,378 to the Salina Grace Foundation
Set up a WiFi access point to provide free internet connection, laptops, workstations, basic computer skills training, and job search assistance for guests.
● $8,600 to the Salina Media Connection
To create a monthly Spanish connection program for the Salina Spanish-speaking community that focuses on digital literacy, civic education, health, finance, legal advice and general education. The program would be for 10 months and provide quarterly digital literacy classes.
● $4,425 to the Salina Public Library
To expand the Salina Public Library Hotspot Lending Program by adding 25 hotspot devices that patrons can check out for free.
● $3,397 to the Salina Public Library
To the Salina Public Library Youth Robotics Club, a program for children ages 13 to 17, for nine robotic workshop kits and to encourage digital literacy, creativity, critical thinking and teamwork.
"The Committee recommends funding for all five applications," McCoy said.
The commissioners unanimously approved the 2023 Digital Equity Grant.
Other items commissioners approved included a Presbyterian Manor KDOT Letter of Support, the official 2023 election results and continued improvements for the Courtroom Project.
The Expo Center Director David Flaherty updated commissioners on Saline County Livestock and Expo Center improvements.