It is expected that a protest petition, the first filed since Ellis County adopted countywide zoning in August, will be submitted to the county clerk’s office this week.
Opponents to the proposed Ellis County wind project have been collecting signatures since March – the deadline for filing the petitions is 5 p.m. Wednesday.
“It’s the only tool we have,” said Pat Bittel, co-secretary of the Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition, a group formed in opposition to the wind project. “The protest petition is a form of democracy.”
There have been several questions regarding the petition process, as outlined in the county’s adopted zoning regulations. ECEAC co-chairman John Schmeidler has appeared before the Ellis County commissioners three times since April seeking clarification.
According to zoning regulations, the protest area is the same as the notification area – all owners of record of lands located within at least 1,000 feet of the area proposed to be altered.
If owners of 20 percent of the land within this perimeter endorse a formal petition, the conditional-use permit application, which was recommended for approval by the Ellis County Planning and Zoning Commission, cannot be approved by the Ellis County Commission without a unanimous vote.
A main question for protestors has been how this 1,000-foot perimeter is defined.
“The problem is that we might be working off of two different lists – what we understand the perimeter area to be and what the Field Abstract is going to come up with,” Schmeidler said at the June 4 county commission meeting.
The Ellis County Joint Planning Commission Procedural Guide states that a list containing the names and mailing addresses of all property owners within the 1,000 feet notification area “shall be obtained from a licensed abstractor.”
This list was not provided with the other application materials in early March. However, project manager Krista Gordon said the company has hired Field Abstract & Title Co. to prepare such a list.
There are several lists available in the environmental office; however, there has been some question as to which one should be followed.
One of the lists, labeled “summary of easement agreements” includes legal descriptions for the “affected area,” or the area requested to be rezoned for the proposed project, Davidson said.
This is the guideline protestors should use to help determine properties within the protest area, he said.
The current lack of a certified list does not make the permit application incomplete, he said.
“I think the importance of the list is to assist the zoning administrator in getting notice to those people, and I think all those people have been notified,” Davidson said. “I think many of them participated in the public process portion of the public hearing.”
Another list on file is a list of landowners inside the proposed project boundaries, prepared by Competitive Power Ventures, Iberdrola’s predecessor, and dated March 2007.
Dated April 30 is another list, prepared by the company, of an additional 14 landowners who were not included in this original notification list.
The first Ellis County Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing was March 28.
The Procedural Guide also includes a list of instructions and a sample form for protest petitioners. But as long as protestors meet the requirements, they can create their own document, Davidson said.
After protest petitions are filed, signatures will be certified by Ellis County Clerk Alberta Klaus, likely with the help of Davidson and Zoning Administrator Dale Wing, Davidson said.
The certified list, if provided on time, is a tool the county clerk could use in making these calculations, he said.
Because the 20-percent requirement is based on percentage of the notification area, not the percent of area landowners, county staff will have to calculate the acres to determine if protestors have met their goal, Davidson said.
Signatures also have to be duly acknowledged by a notary public, he said.
By Kaley Lyon
18 June 2007