A group of landowners in Kingfisher County has filed a lawsuit against the city of Piedmont, claiming a city ordinance passed in August interferes with their rights to lease land for a proposed wind farm.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction against Piedmont to stop enforcement of the ordinance and class-action status for possible damages of more than $38 million.
Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy Inc. is developing the Kingfisher wind farm, a 300-megawatt project in northern Canadian County and southern Kingfisher County. The development doesn't come inside the city limits of Piedmont, but the city council passed an ordinance Aug. 26 declaring large wind turbines within three miles of the city a “public nuisance.”
The lawsuit said the ordinance harms at least five landowners in Kingfisher County and potentially many more within the three-mile radius set up by the city. The landowners have had leases with Apex or its partners for at least three years.
“Plaintiffs' valuable real property rights and valuable rights under said leases have been declared unlawful by defendant's ordinance and resolution,” said the lawsuit filed Friday in Kingfisher County.
State law allows cities to regulate public nuisances within their city limits. It also allows them to regulate projects outside city limits “for the protection of the public health, the public parks and the public water supply.”
The lawsuit said Piedmont's ordinance amounted to an illegal “taking” of private land and landowners were not afforded proper compensation under the rights of eminent domain. It also said the city has failed to prove wind turbines are a public nuisance.
Jim Crosby, Piedmont city manager, said he didn't know if attorneys for the city's litigation partner, a group of Piedmont property owners called the Central Oklahoma Property Rights Association, would handle the lawsuit on behalf of the city. The city entered into a litigation agreement with the association last month for issues regarding the Kingfisher project.
An attorney for the association could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Apex is not a party in the lawsuit. The company previously estimated 43 turbines in Canadian County and another 37 in Kingfisher County could be affected by Piedmont's declaration of wind turbines as a “public nuisance.” Apex has not finalized the placement of turbines for the project.
Crosby said city officials still hope an agreement can be worked out with Apex over the Kingfisher wind farm. Some city residents and elected officials think the planned locations for the wind turbines come too close to the city.
“Both sides have to give a little in a settlement, and presently we don't think Apex has,” Crosby said Tuesday.
Dahvi Wilson, an Apex spokeswoman, said the company has held several meetings with city officials and is trying to work out an agreement. The company's proposal includes a buffer between wind turbines and city limits and a road-use agreement to compensate the city for wear and tear on city roads during construction and operations of the project. The city stands to get a payment totaling $1.5 million over 10 years under the proposed road-use agreement.
“Our comprehensive proposal seeks to address many different areas of concern that have been raised by the city in the past, and we are optimistic that it will serve the best interests of the city residents while protecting the property rights of unincorporated landowners,” Wilson said in an email.
Piedmont covers about 43 square miles in northeast Canadian County. One of the fastest-growing cities in Oklahoma, it has grown 57 percent in the last decade. It had a population of about 5,720, according to the 2010 census.