After a meeting lasting over three hours Monday night, the Pratt County Planning and Zoning Board once again tabled taking action to approve or deny a Special Use Permit request from British Petroleum (BP) during a public hearing. The hearing was extended from last month as it was tabled at that time also.
The request is asking for permission to establish a 20,000-acre commercial wind energy project named Ninnescah Wind Energy, LLC in the southeastern corner of Pratt County.
Board members Mark Fincham and Darren Hodgkinson removed themselves previously from consideration of the project because of conflicts of interest. Fincham was not present for the meeting and Hodgkinson sat in the audience during the meeting.
The existing land use of the proposed area is primarily agricultural with residential buildings, accessory uses and commercial facilities located in and close to the proposed area. There are transmission lines, gas storage facilities and other underground facilities in the immediate area to be considered and future transmission lines to be established. The project is expected to create 250 temporary and 15 permanent jobs.
The main reason the request was tabled seemed to be lack of information and BP's request for a yes or no vote for approval of the project.
Those opposing the request at this time are seeking more specificity from BP concerning the number of towers and their exact locations, eminent domain, environmental impacts, avian flyways, water table, fire safety, blade shearing and ice being thrown, noise, road repairs, private airport setbacks, escrow accounts set up to cover costs of future demolition, payment in lieu of taxes, BP's safety record, crop spraying in the area, and set backs from non-participating property among other items.
Although there was a wide disparity of agreement on the information needed and the timing for the provision of that information between BP, a group called Citizens for Responsible Development, and various private landowners (approximately 250 total property owners in the proposed site area) there was a relatively civil discussion during the extended public hearing.
Seemingly, Karl Pierce, representing BP, and property owners present, agreed to disagree, but not to be disagreeable.
Nonparticipating property owners in the area were concerned about setbacks from their properties and the possibility of being included in the project through the future use of eminent domain when BP would have to establish transmission lines in and out of the area.
Berry Bortz stated he had asked for an estimate for completely removing the concrete bases supporting the towers and found it could run up to $1,000,000 per tower. BP is proposing removing the bases to only four feet below the ground surface and covering them at that point.
Bortz's contention was that would make the land unusable for future farming use, (the life expectancy for each unit is estimated at around 40 years maximum) and would devaluate the property.
Page 2 of 2 - Although the majority of the property owners attending the public hearing said they were not opposed to BP forming a wind farm in the area, they were opposed to them doing so without providing the county with all the specific information required by the Pratt County Zoning Ordinance prior to being approved for the Special Use Permit.
On the other hand, Pierce (BP) does not want to invest the massive amount of money necessary to complete the extensive requirements without knowing their request will be approved.
If the request is approved now, without all the data being presented, BP will still have to jump through the hoops prior to the Pratt County Commissioners ultimately approving the project. If the board approves the request, it can only recommend approval to the commissioners who will make the final decision.
Pratt County Planning and Zoning Chairman Kent Moore discussing setbacks said, "This process started over a year ago… I won't sit here and say we've done a good job… we've put a lot of thought in it… it's extremely hard to balance setbacks for properties… everyone has their opinions of where they should be. In some people's eyes that are acceptable, in others it will never be acceptable. That's the nature of the beast."
Loomis made a motion to table discussion on the request until the next meeting of the board March 18.