An action item to adopt Curry County’s comprehensive plan turned into a discussion amongst commissioners and county residents about private landowners’ rights Tuesday morning.
The language Commissioner Wendell Bostwick and other landowners in the county asked Phyllis Taylor, senior principal of planning for Sites Southwest, to strike from the plan was:
• Preserve over-flight capabilities for Cannon Air Force Base and invite base representatives to engage landowners in any actions that may affect the development of wind farms and other renewable energy facilities; and
• Develop an agreement with Cannon Air Force Base regarding placement and development of wind farm sites.
Throughout the entire conversation, County Attorney Steve Doerr made it clear that the county’s comprehensive plan, when approved, would not be binding in any way and could be changed at any time.
Bostwick, who is associated with a wind farm group in Melrose, said that the two goals infringed upon private landowners’ rights and added that it wasn’t an obligation of the county’s to work out a deal between landowners and base leadership.
“Curry County has no obligation whatsoever in that respect, to not place wind farms where it can interfere with military and aircraft operations,” Bostwick said.
Further concerning to Bostwick was the way the language would appear to a developer seeking to set up shop in the county.
“My concern is that a potential developer anywhere in the world can pull this up and read the statement, that it’s the county they have to come to start negotiations if they want to put in a turbine,” Bostwick said. “The county doesn’t have the authority (to do that) right now; that should be between private land owner and the U.S. government.”
Bostwick said after the meeting that it was his intention to protect private property rights and negotiations between property owners and developers.
He added that he stands to gain “no more than anyone else in the county,” from a wind farm development in Melrose.
“In reality, the potential developer wants to do seven projects in Curry County, of which the first one could be in Melrose,” Bostwick said. “(The developer) did approach the group I’m associated with. I have less than two percent interest in that group, so … yes there could be a small benefit, but there’s six other chances.”
Bostwick said he understands that his concerns “could appear that (he’s) protecting his own interest.”
“But I’m protecting others, too,” he said. “I think it became evident as they spoke that they have the same concerns that I do.”
Commissioner Tim Ashley expressed concerns that, depending on the wording in the plan, a “special interest group” could come into the county and demand via court order that the county pass a law.
“One concern I have about having plans in place, and what’s been said about it’s not legally binding – and call me paranoid – but there are, in some instances, where local governments have had plans … maybe this is more leaning to ordinances that allows for certain special interest groups to come in at a later time and say, ‘You’ve got a plan that allows to adopt for this,’ and that puts you in the position if they get the right judge in place, where before long, you’ve got a court order that tells you to do something,” Ashley explained. “We need to be careful how we word these things.”
Paul Stout, a chairman for a renewable energy group in Curry County, said he, along with others, looked at the language “with grave concern.”
“Commissioner Bostwick stated it very well in the beginning, it’s all about perception,” Stout said. “It is a public document, a potential developer, people look at that and they see an attitude as being potentially unfriendly for their interest.”
Part of his concern, he said, is the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) process that outlines how a developer places wind turbines.
“They make this application, FAA is obligated to send it out for comments, and a lot of different entities can comment – not just the base,” Stout explained. “My understanding is if the Amarillo airport wanted to comment they could, the Navy could, they take all of these comments and look at the parties most impacted … but ultimately it’s up to the FAA to get the determination of no potential hazard. It doesn’t just say you can’t build a wind farm, it says you can’t obtain insurance on that facility if you don’t have that determination.”
The only thing that would stop a wind farm developer, Stout said, is if the county had an ordinance in place that further regulated wind farms.
“I don’t want to jump off the rails too much, but when we start with language in a plan, and down the road it develops into an ordinance, several questions need to be asked. I would just say to all of you that this is something that needs to be carefully thought out … I don’t want to see the base go away, I think we need to work with them.”
Commissioners tabled approving the document until their Jan. 14 meeting to allow more time for changes to be made and for the public to have more time to digest it.
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