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On Gary and Linda Casady’s desktop computer is a breathtaking portrait of open fields, the tall browning grass coaxed by the “world class” wind that has made that very piece of otherwise nondescript land so newsworthy in past months.
A few seconds pass and another picture slides into view, this one an unobstructed shot of Mt. Hood.
For the Casadys these are never-ending scenes, framed by the windows from their three-story house on Badger View Drive on Sevenmile Hill.
Well, neverending if the Casadys and others like them can prevail in the struggle between homeowners and a multi-million dollar project.
A proposal by Massachusetts-based UPC Wind to locate the 40-tower, 60-megawatt Cascade Wind Farm on Sevenmile would certainly change the landscape of that area. Scads of residents have, over the months, expressed disapproval over issues such as how 40 wind turbines, each nearly 400-feet-tall would damage the scenery around the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Others are troubled over the reported health hazards the turbines may pose to people in homes situated around them.
“We think it’s just a really poor siting location,” said local resident Sheila Dooley, who is the director of The Dalles-Wasco County Library.
The Casadys and Dooley, along with her husband Phil Swaim, are just a few of the people who have voiced their disapproval for the proposal either by appearing at community forums, writing letters to the media, or by contacting the Oregon Department of Energy.
In an interview with The Chronicle on June 12, Krista Kisch, a representative for UPC said, “You know, some people like it, some people don’t. We just have to adhere to the process and make sure that we’re doing high-quality work and be available to address questions as they come up.”
Sevenmile Hill residents Scott and Betsy Hege and Tom Quinn met June 6 with The Chronicle to discuss their concerns.
The Heges have lived on the hill for six years; Quinn purchased his property last year.
The conversation took place at Quinn’s homesite, a five-acre parcel just off Martin road, where he is building a log house. From the site, Quinn estimates he will be able to see most of the 22 turbines in Cascade Wind’s proposed northern array.
That doesn’t please Quinn, who says he made his purchase for the views and the tranquility. He said he spent $10,000 to bury the electrical lines to his site to avoid stringing lines and poles in his neighbors’ view. Now he faces the prospect of a couple dozen reminders of the industrial world.
“There are probably uglier things in the world, but they’re just not compatible with our nature area,” he said of the towers. “Something that’s preserved for its natural beauty shouldn’t have a 400-foot tower with a big blade spinning away. This is otherworldly.”
Betsy Hege said the fact that the turbines move is an additional distraction.
“They always catch your eye,” she said. “It’s that constant motion that probably causes some of those syndrome symptoms of anxiety and restlessness.”
Quinn cited a British analysis called the Sinclair-Thomas Matrix, a system for measuring the visual impact of wind turbines.
“Up to 2½ miles they completely dominate the landscape,” Quinn said. “Then up to 5 or 6 miles, they are ‘intrusive.’ is the word they use. And beyond ten miles, even, you’ll have impact. If you draw a radius ten miles out, you’re almost to Hood River. People windsurfing would see it; Bingen, White Salmon, all those people would see it. It’s really going to stick out. And the movement part, to me, I just can’t imagine.”
All three used the word “industrial” or “industrial complex” to describe the project, which they say is incompatible with R-5 and R-10 zoning, which limits residents to a single dwelling on either five or ten acres.
Scott Hege said opponents of the project have been charged with a “not in my back yard” (NIMBY) attitude.
He said the classic depiction of the situation would be people who move next to an airport and complain about the jet noise.
It’s a whole different situation, he said, when the airport moves in next to you.
This is the first time that a wind farm has been sited adjacent to this much residential area, he said, a fact he had confirmed in a phone call to the Energy Facilities Siting Council.
Hege said he believes UPC is using Cascade Wind as a test case for where it really wants to build in quantity – on the Oregon coast.
“On the US Dept of Energy website you can go to any state and they have a map showing where the wind resource exists. It’s basically the whole coast. There are little spots in the gorge, but the coast is the gravy for the wind energy in the future.”
Tom Quinn agreed: “They’re testing the waters to see what happens when you site it near people,” he said. “If you tried to put this near Cannon Beach, people with their deep wallets would go nutzoid.”
Quinn and the Heges have a number of concerns about the Cascade Wind project. They cite bat and bird mortality, detriments to biodiversity and possible health effects on residents.
Fire danger is a real concern. They said they’d been told by the local fire department that there’s no way the fire department could get fire trucks to the scene if one of the wind turbines should cause a fire.
But dollars and cents are also a big motivater.
“There has been a freeze on real estate up here; no one’s selling,” Quinn said. “If you drive from this end down to Mosier, there are for sale signs everywhere, and none of those have moved, and they’ve been up for a couple of months. I don’t think a lot of those people are yuppies. I think that’s their life savings, and they’re trying to get out and no one’s buying anything. Last year at this time, anything that came on the market was sold very quickly. Now, it’s totally different.”
Quinn and the Heges say they will continue to oppose the development, and they have been buoyed by e-mails and letters from citizens in other parts of the country where UPC has built projects.
Ultimately, though, they have to focus on this one.
“In a way, it would be better to put a coal plant out here,” said Tom Quinn.
“The footprint would be smaller… I think the tallest building in Portland would be 550 feet. One of these turbines would be the third or fourth largest building in Portland. And there are going to be 40 of them? It’s crazy.”
Keith Stelzer, medical director of radiation oncology at the Celilo Cancer Center, took an interest in the project when he first heard discussions regarding the potential for the turbines having adverse health effects, such as sleep deprivation, which he said surprised him.
Stelzer, who does not live on Sevenmile Hill, isn’t convinced that turbines are necessarily dangerous, but doesn’t feel that there’s enough information that says that they aren’t either.
“Why do we want to take a risk of putting these wind turbines in a fairly densely populated area before we get more information?” he asked. “I’m not necessarily opposed to wind farms or a windfarm in a highly populated area. I am opposed to putting it up … when there is opposition to it and very limited epidemiological data.”
Dooley and Swaim, who have compiled binders full of papers to use as ammunition against UPC, said after first hearing about the project they were excited and wanted turbines on their property. It would be ideal for the project, they thought. However, the more they learned the less interested they grew.
Stelzer and Dooley referred to a study by the French Academy on Medicine. It says no homes should be closer than one mile to any turbine. However, UPC’s plan would have them within half a mile at multiple locations, which is in line with county ordinances that say they need to be at least a quarter of a mile away.
The mountainous terrain around Sevenmile could cause skewed results on sound tests, Dooley said. She wants the tests to be conducted by independent agencies, not those hired by UPC.
UPC hired Tetra Tech, of Portland, to do the tests. Kisch cautioned that while that company was hired by UPC, the Oregon Department of Energy will independently verify all of the company’s findings.
“It’s a process,” Kisch reiterated, “and again, the underlying design is based on the county land use ordinance criteria.”
When pressed to say whether those ordinances, and not the feelings of residents, were UPC’s primary concern, Kisch refused, saying, “I am not making any comment other than we are in a process and that we have a state level criteria that we have to meet.”
As far as effect of turbines on the land, the Casady’s are very concerned.
They fear their surroundings will be stripped of all the qualities that drew them to Sevenmile in 2000.
“We, and others like us who live on the hill, value those aspects of silence, serenity, seeing the wildlife going back and forth,” Gary Casady said.
Concerns that the turbines would be eyesores have been overblown, Kisch said. She offered the opinion that they won’t be as visible as has been reported.
“The farther you get away … the human eye can only see within a certain amount of distance,” she said. “On top of it, if you look at the topography, and you start driving around on curvy hills with bluffs, it is not an easy sight to see.”
In the preliminary application stage, the Oregon Department of Energy received approximately 100 comments from the public regarding the Cascade Wind project. Representative Adam Bless said of those, maybe three were positive. Kisch was not fazed by those numbers.
“Well, we have a population of 12,000 people,” she said, “so that’s really not a high response rate.”
UPC’s public relations representative, Diane Danowski-Smith of the Ulum Group in Portland, said the results weren’t unusual. Similar issues her firm has worked on typically receive voluminous opposition.
“Quite frankly, the scads of supporters you have don’t verbalize their support,” she said.
Danowski-Smith said other land projects her company has represented are usually favored by approximately 80 percent of residents.
In response to concerns about the lasting effects on the land, Kisch said UPC doesn’t plan to abandon the project in the near future, and said it is making a minimum 20-year commitment to Cascade Wind.
“We own our projects, so this is sort of the entry into the community for a long term partnership,” she said. “And again, you have to kick things off with your project design, your permitting process, but there’s a lot of work we have to do to educate the community about wind energy.”
Kisch expressed confidence in the wind power industry, saying that large energy companies are more comfortable buying wind power than other types of “somewhat unproven” technologies, like solar and wave energy.
When the time comes to shut down the wind farm, Kisch said the company has a decommissioning plan in place.
“I think you’ll see a tremendous amount of innovation the next 20 years,” she said. Kisch then joked, “But I’m not going to speculate on power prices.”
Gary and Linda Casady, as well as Sheila Dooley and Phil Swaim, would tell her she doesn’t need to. They feel that they already know the price of power: their homes and health.
By Roger Nichols and Bill Oram
of The Chronicle
24 June 2007
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