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Zoning Board approves changes to wind energy ordinance

Pratt, Kan.  – The Pratt County Planning Board approved proposed amendments to the Pratt County Zoning Ordinance Monday evening. The changes were proposed by British Petroleum (BP) for a specific commercial wind energy project, but will be in effect for all wind energy project special use applicants in the future, if they are adopted by the Pratt County commissioners.

The proposed changes would make the application process a two-phase process instead of one as originally proposed. Applicants would have to basically supply all of the necessary information and data to support their project, but not all up front as a part of the permitting process.

There were 12 individuals who spoke at the public hearing (eight for making the changes and four against). Additionally, there were 12 letters written to the board, which were read and introduced into testimony (seven for making the changes and five against).

Although many of the comments made during the hearing related to BP, they do not have an application before the board at the present time. They withdrew their original application when they found they did not want to, or could not, comply with the original zoning regulations as written and suggested the proposed changes be made to the process.

Several non-residents of Pratt County, who own property here, spoke out in favor of making the changes, while several on the other side of the fence wanted to know why the board was considering making the changes since BP has previously stated they were getting out of the wind energy business. One lobbyist, from Ellis County, appeared before the board and praised wind energy development as being the way of the future.

Several individuals who spoke at the meeting told board members they were appointed to protect the citizens of Pratt County, not to protect the interests of BP. Others wanted to know if the environmental reviews came back with negatives, could an application be turned down. Pratt County Counselor Robert Schmisseur answered the question with a yes, but continued stating you will have to be able to support the reason you give.

Several wanted to know if making the changes to the zoning ordinance would open the county up to legal ramifications. Again this was aimed at BP who does not have an application in the pipeline at this time. Schmisseur said that anybody could sue at any time, but unlikely if the county acted in good faith and could support its position.

Proponents of the changes being proposed spoke in favor of expected economic development, payments in lieu of taxes, and increased growth for the county and general improvements of the culture and society in the community.

One individual questioned possible conflict with the Kansas Open Meeting Act, since stated Karl Pierce (BP) had reasonable expectations that he did not have to meet regulations as recorded in the minutes of several different board meetings. Planning Board Chairman Kent Moore stated he did not feel the board had agreed to anything with Pierce.

One individual asked for a moratorium on wind turbine generation development until all of the current avian studies being conducted have been completed. Another stated the original setbacks were sufficient and the board should leave them alone and get ahead of incomplete applications.

One interested party said he was in favor of economic development instead of running off possible businesses as has been the trend in the past.

Upon closing the public hearing, the board discussed possible future technical changes, which would need to be made to the zoning ordinance. However, in the end, the board voted unanimously to approve the changes being proposed and send the recommendation to the Pratt County Commission.