Zoning change eyed after coal projects blockedBISMARCK — Officials in southwestern North Dakota say they will consider changing a zoning rule that could block development of a coal mine, a coal drying plant and a synthetic gas factory.
By: By Dale Wetzel, The Associated Press , The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — Officials in southwestern North Dakota say they will consider changing a zoning rule that could block development of a coal mine, a coal drying plant and a synthetic gas factory.
The rule allows any landowner within 200 feet of a proposed zoning change to block any rezoning. When it was approved in the early 1980s, its drafters probably intended to require that neighbors be notified of any zoning proposal, rather than give them power to stop it, said Tom Henning, the Stark County state’s attorney.
The regulation could stymie GTL Energy USA Ltd.’s plans to operate a coal drying plant near South Heart, about 13 miles west of Dickinson, and a proposed coal mine and synthetic fuels factory being planned by Great Northern Project Development LP.
A group of nearby landowners have raised questions about the effects of the projects on local water supplies and the environment.
Five property owners and the Dakota Resource Council, a Dickinson-based environmental group, sued to challenge the Stark County Commission’s decision last year to aid the projects by rezoning 7,120 acres of farm land as industrial property.
Southwest District Judge Zane Anderson reversed the commission’s zoning decisions last month, saying the commissioners had not followed a state law that required them to provide written justifications for their decisions.
In his ruling, Anderson suggested the coal projects faced another obstacle — a county ordinance that requires consent for zoning changes from any landowner who has property within 200 feet of the affected land.
“Because this court has reversed and vacated the county commission’s decisions on other grounds, the issue of neighbor approval need not ... be decided at this time,” Anderson wrote. “Needless to say, however, the planning and zoning board and county commission should evaluate what is required under ... the zoning ordinance.”
Stark County’s zoning advisory board has scheduled an Aug. 17 public hearing to discuss whether the 200-foot rule should be changed. The board reports to the Stark County Commission, which will make the final decision on any proposed changes.
The coal-drying plant is under construction, and its developers hope to finish it within the next few months. It will use a process called beneficiation to remove water and impurities from low-quality lignite coal to increase its energy value and reduce the pollution caused by burning it.
Robert French, the chief executive officer of GTL Energy USA Ltd., did not respond to telephone messages left for comment Wednesday. The company is part of GTL Energy Ltd. of Adelaide, Australia.
Great Northern Project Development, which is based in Houston, initially intended to build a coal-fueled electric power plant near South Heart.
It now plans to construct a factory to convert lignite into synthetic gas, which in turn will be used to manufacture hydrogen, said Richard Voss, a Great Northern vice president. The hydrogen will power turbines to make 175 megawatts of electricity, Voss said.
Using hydrogen instead of coal or synthetic gas to power an electric generating station will greatly reduce its carbon dioxide emissions, Voss said. Carbon dioxide is considered a greenhouse gas and contributor to global warming.
Voss said he did not believe the zoning dispute would delay the project. Great Northern does not expect to begin construction for more than two years, he said. The company is also seeking financial aid for the project from the U.S. Energy Department.