Karl Pierce and Steve Gough, representing British Petroleum (BP), informed Pratt County commissioners Monday afternoon they were withdrawing their application for a special use under present zoning regulations. The pair explained the current regulations gave them a pause for concern about the legalities of their applications.
BP does not want to complete all of the many requirements to receive a special use under the present regulations, according to Pierce. Pierce wants to ask the Pratt County Planning and Zoning Board to re-write the present ordinance to allow more flexibility in developing a plan for what is being called the Ninnescah Wind Energy project in southeast Pratt County.
BP would like to receive a special use prior to furnishing all of the details called for in the zoning ordinance. Those details are expensive and very time consuming, according to Pierce, and would not in the long run assure BP receiving a special use, even if they were completed.
"As drafted right now, the ordinance pretty much puts the cart before the horse," said Gough. "As it stands right now, we need a change before we can go forward."
Pierce said, "I'm afraid of possible lawsuits by opponents because we did not follow proper procedures in the existing ordinance."
Pierce said the county commissioners would have the final approval of the project one way or another. Commissioners could approve recommendations from the board, disapprove recommendations from the board, or come up with their own pathway to issuing the permit.
"What we are wanting to do, is pretty much the procedure we used in Kingman and Harper counties," said Gough. "Additionally, we will need a road agreement and a decommissioning agreement with the county.
Pratt County Zoning Administrator Tim Branscom said proceeding in this fashion would cause a public hearing to be held in May and a final decision from the zoning board to be issued sometime in July.
Zoning board to look at procedures
The Pratt County Planning and Zoning Board has asked their attorney, Pratt County Counselor Robert Schmisseur, to look at procedural changes to the adopted zoning ordinance for their consideration. This action is the result of a request from British Petroleum (BP) to change some of the procedures required to obtain a 'Special Use' under the ordinance for a wind farm in Pratt County.
At present, the Pratt County zoning ordinance requires all information relating to a project, such as the wind farm BP is asking permission to build, be completed prior to a 'Special Use' being recommended by the board to the county commissioners.
BP submitted a possible change to the ordinance, which would allow for them to complete the process after approval of a 'Special Use' for the area under consideration without full disclosure of data upfront. The new procedure under possible consideration would approve the area under consideration, whose boundaries could not be changed, and allow BP, or any other applicant for a wind farm, to work on developing a plan over an extended period of time.
The changes being looked at will not change any of the setbacks and other requirements of the ordinance, according to consultant Bickley Foster. The changes will, however, make the process a two-step process rather than a one-step as presently required.
Under consideration will be procedures which will grant BP the 'Special Use' (Step 1), but require all of the data relating to environmental issues and construction plans be submitted prior to final approval of the project's construction (Step 2). There were differences of opinion among the zoning board members with some wanting to adhere to the adopted ordinance and others not.
"What we have in place right now doesn't work for anyone," said Chairman Kent Moore. "It doesn't work for us either. Companies want to get from point A to point B but the ordinance doesn't allow for that."
"What they've asked for is a procedural change which does not change any of the other regulations in the ordinance," said Foster. "Do you believe the existing process is necessary?"
Foster went on to explain, "BP is not in a position to have a full set of plans until they know what someone is going to buy. I don't see them going forward until they know what their market is."
"It has been my experience in business if you tell someone to go ahead and do it — it usually doesn't turn out well," said Zoning Board member Fred Newby.
"I don't like changing horses in the middle of the stream," said Board member Ed Petrowsky. "If we give them what they want we're going to be behind the eight-ball at that time."
After being quiet during the session, BP representative Karl Pierce finally spoke out on the issues at hand. Pierce stated what they are asking for is relatively the same procedures adopted by Harper and Kingman counties. Newby said earlier in the meeting he agreed with one-time consultant Pat Hughes who said not to listen to what other counties are doing, but do what is best for Pratt County.
"This is the sixth time I've been in front of the zoning board," said Pierce. "We consult with all those guys (state and federal agencies as required) — we would be glad to provide that information when we do. We will need a proof of power purchase agreement prior to selecting the turbine type we will end up with."
Pierce addressed a list of 27 items presented to the board by concerned citizens stating those items could be addressed in the criteria spelled out by the board.
"We want to work with you on this," Pierce said.
Attorney Steve Gough, representing BP, stated the first paragraph of the existing ordinance requiring a full set of plans would have prevented BP from moving forward with a wind farm project in Pratt County.
"Does this county want a wind farm in the area we have laid out?" asked Gough. "It takes a two-thirds vote of the Pratt County Commission to overturn any decision you make. This board does not make the final decision."