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PSE unveils 'controlled' wind farm access plan

Puget Sound Energy officials earlier this week unveiled a proposed, public access plan for Beacon Ridge Road that runs through the company’s Wild Horse Wind Power Project 17 miles east of Ellensburg.

The plan, which requires state approval, offers the general public controlled access to the 9,000 acres encompassing the wind farm, according to Brian Lenz, manager of community and local government relations for PSE in Central Washington.

Beacon Ridge Road is currently closed to the public due to construction of a demonstration solar project and final work on the wind farm that began full operation in December 2006.

Lenz on Wednesday outlined the plan during a meeting with Kittitas County commissioners and those who believe Beacon Ridge Road is a county road to which the public should have complete access.

The meeting was set by Commissioner Alan Crankovich to discuss concerns raised by Harold Hochstatter of Moses Lake, who owns property and a cabin beyond the 127-turbine wind farm that’s located north of Vantage Highway. Beacon Ridge Road is accessed off Vantage Highway.

Hochstatter has objected to the position of the county and Bellevue-based Puget Sound Energy that Beacon Ridge Road is a private road, which allows public access to be blocked by owners of the private land on which the road runs.

Gordon Blossom of Thorp also has expressed concern that the public’s past use of Beacon Ridge Road for at least 10 years, according to state law, makes it a county road.

Lenz, after the meeting, said the access plan, part of a larger adaptive management plan, will come before the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council in the next few weeks for review and approval.

“We are determined to make controlled access as hassle free and as uncomplicated as possible,” Lenz said.

The tentative access plan provides for a spring through Dec. 1 Beacon Ridge Road opening during daylight hours, a winter-months closure, a special 24-hour opening period for an elk hunting season and a registration process for people wanting to recreate on wind farm lands off the road. Property owners will be given keys for continuous access.

Once these provisions are approved by the state, PSE will get the word out about the access policies, Lenz said.

Hochstatter, a former state legislator, after the Wednesday meeting said PSE officials did most of the presenting at the session “but didn’t really resolve the issue.” He said PSE officials could easily close the road to the public if such things as vandalism occurs at the wind farm site.

“Instead of closing the road they need to prosecute the vandals,” Hochstatter said.

He contends the road was built in the 1930s by the Civil Aeronautics Administration, the forerunner of the Federal Aviation Administration, to lead to the site of a radio or light beacon used to guide aircraft.

If it can be proved public funds were used to develop the road and-or the beacon site, state law declares the road as public, he said. Hochstatter said he will continue to research work done on the road.

Crankovich said later the county Prosecutor’s Office has researched the status of Beacon Ridge Road and has found no evidence supporting it to be a public or county road. He said the road is private as it is on privately-owned lands.

He said those wanting full, unrestricted access to the road seemed pleased at the meeting that PSE is proposing the changes, but they would rather have unfettered use of the road.

By Mike Johnston
Senior Writer

Daily Record

27 July 2007