November 22, 2011

Zoning board tackles ‘fairness’ for wind farms

By J.W. Keene, The Pratt Tribune, 21 November 2011

Pratt, Kan. – Patrick Hughes, an attorney for Adam Jones Law, Wichita, attended the meeting of the Pratt County Planning and Zoning Board (Board) Wednesday evening as a representative of the Pratt County Commissioners. Hughes’ mission was to establish with the nine members of the Board and the private consultants (Foster and Associates), the direction the commissioners would like to precede, in establishing zoning districts and regulations for Pratt County.

Pratt County Commission Chairman Joe Reynolds, called the meeting to order with Commissioner Dwight Adams also in attendance. The nine members of the Pratt County Planning and Zoning Board then elected officers. The following individuals were elected by position: President – Kent Moore, Vice President – Ted Loomis, Secretary – Morgan Trinkle, and Recording Secretary – Lisa Petrosky. Moore, once the election of officers was completed, called the meeting of the Board to order.

The Board decided to have the consultants fill in the blanks, at minimum levels, for the by-laws to be adopted during the Nov. 30th meeting. Members, also, established the 3rd Monday of each month at 7:00 p.m., in the Pratt County Commission Room, as their regular time and place of meeting.

“Special” meetings can be called by the chairman, vice –chairman, or any combination of any other three members of the Board.

With both entities in session, Hughes went on to give an overview of the relationship of wind farms and zoning regulations. Hughes said wind farms are a use that potentially can cause problems. Additionally, Hughes said he did not think commissioners wanted to over-regulate zoning in the county, but were looking for minimum regulations.

“Their expectation is, that you would have a skeletal regulation,” said Hughes, speaking of wind farm developers. “The goal is not to prevent them, nor is it to protect wind farm turbines.

“What do these wind turbines mean to us as a county?” asked Hughes. “If it isn’t an issue at the time, do we need to address it at all? Part of the apprehension about this, is the commission does not see that we need to adopt regulations concerning things that are not in the county – they don’t really care about parking lots, kennels, etc.”

“Should we not just adopt the minimums and regulate the other at a later time,” said Loomis. “I’m a little concerned with getting everything worked out at this time.”

“I would agree with what Ted (Loomis),” said Merlin Kessler. “We can always come back and change anything.”

In order for the Board to change any adopted regulation, it would take a majority, or five votes out of nine, while approval of a zoning request would only take a majority of the quorum present (5-members), at a minimum a 3-2 vote.

In discussing the proposed regulations being presented by the consultants, the Board asked that all blank areas be filled in with minimum standards and brought back to the Board for further consideration.Additionally, the consultants were asked to write minimum regulations for five zoning districts: agricultural, residential, village, commercial, and industrial. Other articles included in the documents to be eventually presented to the Board for their recommendation to the Pratt County Commissioners, include required state and federal regulations.

The agricultural district will cover about 98 percent of the county, according to Foster, and is exempt from zoning regulations except in flood plain areas.

The Board decided they would consider extending the moratorium on wind farms in Pratt County, if needed, so they could get regulations right, prior to permitting them in the county.

Bickley Foster said that BP (British Petroleum) has purchased 350 General Electric turbines at a cost of $750,000,000 to be installed in Harper, Kingman and Pratt counties. Pratt County installations could begin in 2014, according to Foster’s information.

“What are we trying to do?” asked Hughes. “Being fair and protecting the county.

“When we help someone – we end up hurting someone else,” said Hughes. “Every time you go through one of these projects, you’re going to tear someone up. There are those that buy off on a project and those that don’t. You shouldn’t allow projects that don’t meet application standards.

“At what point should we say this project doesn’t work,” asked Hughes. “Where are turbines located… what is the level of noise… are you willing to say that this project will just not work?”

Hughes went on to discuss low frequency vibrations, lights, endangered species, emergency services, cultural heritage issues, and interference with aircraft operations.

“I might not care a whit about a spotted skunk, but once it becomes endangered, I can’t use my land for what I want to,” said Hughes.

One of the larger issues the county has to look at is damage to county resources, which are not paid for by the developers. The state of Kansas has made wind farms exempt from taxes, but can negotiate fees in lieu of taxes with the county, according to Hughes.

The useful life of a turbine is 20-years… the economic life is 10-years because of tax purposes, according to Hughes.

Additionally, according to Hughes, depending upon what type of structure the developers use, they could potentially have the power of eminent domain to acquire transmission line rights-of-way across private property.

“What do you do with turbines, once they are to be decommissioned,” asked Hughes. “What are the concerns we need to have a handle on… protect citizens of Pratt County… protect citizens not necessarily part of the project?

“You have the power to do what is reasonable and defensible,” said Hughes in relation to establishing zoning regulations in Pratt County. “We need to make informed decisions and what’s best for Pratt County.”

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