After sitting through more than 27 hours of hearings this week, listening to or reading testimony from 35 witnesses and cross examining some of those labeled as expert witnesses, the jury is finally out on the controversial Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project.
The “jury” – the 7-member state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council – may decide by late December what to recommend to Gov. Chris Gregoire on the 65-turbine wind farm proposed for 12 miles northwest of Ellensburg.
The state council has been asked by the wind farm developer, Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy, to pre-empt Kittitas County government’s rejection of the project and approve it. Horizon officials say it’s been proven the project will have little environmental or social impact.
County government officials contend the council, or EFSEC, has no authority to trump the county’s June 6 decision made under the authority of the state’s Growth Management Act, and that impacts from the huge towers haven’t yet been fully lessened.
Once Gregoire gets the EFSEC recommendation, she has 60 days to make a final decision.
At the conclusion of formal hearings on Thursday, both opponents of the wind farm site and supporters said they believe the chances are good their positions will prevail.
“We are encouraged by EFSEC’s line of questioning in the hearings that indicated they understood the county’s decision-making process takes away some elements of authority from EFSEC,” said Dana Peck, Horizon’s project manager. “The county designed a process that pre-empted EFSEC’s role in forming a development agreement and a final permit.”
Peck said EFSEC has been clearly informed that the project has high value to the state as a whole and to the community, and there are no alternative wind farm sites in the county like the one chosen for ridge tops on both sides of U.S. Highway 97.
He said it has been shown that only three to four people will have serious visual impacts from the project and 10 or 12 will actually live near the turbines.
Jim Hurson, Kittitas County’s chief civil prosecutor, said the county has demonstrated to EFSEC that Horizon has “failed completely” to make a good-faith effort to work with the county to solve land-use issues and impacts associated with the project.
“The record clearly shows that,” Hurson said.
Hurson said the county’s wind farm review process is under the umbrella of the state’s Growth Management Act (GMA), and the act doesn’t allow state government to undo local government decisions that are lawful.
By Mike Johnston
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