Residents of Sevenmile Hill got a chance to tell their story directly to members of the Energy Facilities Siting Council of the Oregon Department of Energy Thursday night, and they made the most of it.
Of the 35 people who spoke about UPCs proposed Cascade Wind project, 31 expressed their disapproval in various shades of firmness.
That proposal, to site 40 wind turbines, each 390 feet tall, on a seven-mile footprint along Sevenmile Hill, is in the preliminary stages. Massachusetts-based UPC submitted an application to the EFSC in April. That application was ruled incomplete, which is not unusual. Adam Bless of the Oregon Department of Energy told the crowd of more than 80 persons gathered at the Discovery Center that in 17 years, he’s not had an application declared complete on its first attempt.
A first information-gathering session was held by Department of Energy staff members in June, and. he said, it generated so many questions and issues that UPC said it would not have a response ready until at least the end of August.
“The ball is in UPC’s court right now,” Bless said. He noted that the EFSC does not consider an application filed until it’s complete, and does not normally hold public meetings on incomplete applications.
“But,” he said, “I heard two things at the previous meeting: Where is this council, and when to we get to talk to them directly, instead of through staff?” That, Bless said, led to Thursday’s meeting.
He and Assistant Attorney General Jan Prewitt were careful to remind the crowd that Thursday’s meeting was not an official hearing, but an “information-gathering” session.
Five of the council’s seven members were on hand for the informal session. The EFSC will meet in formal session Friday at the Discovery Center to consider a half-dozen other siting proposals and reports, including Klondike III in Sherman County.
At Thursday night’s meeting, though, all thoughts were on the UPC proposal.
Speaker after speaker said they were in agreement and even support of wind power, but that siting what they called an “industrial wind complex” in a residential area was a poor choice.
Residents based their opposition on a variety of criteria: visual intrusion, noise, movement, disruption of game and bird habitat, destruction of rare Wasco Oak stands, traffic, dust, vibration, community disruption, installation of high-voltage lines, potential depletion of the water table, loss of property value, spoilage of the National Scenic Area, and a number of state rules and regulations having to do with new projects not causing negative impacts on adjacent properties.
Many speakers found fault with the initial UPC application and its methodology. Others cited personal stories from UPC’s Mars Hill wind project in Maine, which also was set in a residential area with the same wind towers proposed for the Cascade Wind Project on Sevenmile Hill.
A few people went contrary to the crowd and said positive things about the proposed project. Clay Smith, a member of the Northern Wasco PUD Board told about his father’s pioneering effort with a 120 foot wind turbine in the 1980s. He also said there was a coming shortage of power in the Northwest, and that all means needed to be considered.
But most of the focus Thursday was in opposition to the project. Tom Quinn, whose property adjoins that of the 22 towers of the proposed northern array of the project, found irony that when he built his house, the county required him to bury his electrical lines, paint only dark colors, and cut no trees, all to avoid disrupting the area visually. Yet UPC would be able to put up 40 structures 390 feet tall.
Sevenmile resident Sheila Marsh said someone compared each tower to a Statue of Liberty, swinging her arms and going, “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.” The Statue of Liberty is 305 feet tall, 85 feet shorter than the top blade of the wind turbine.
The night even saw a politics-makes-unusual-bedfellows moment when Georgia Murray, staunch property rights advocate, told the watching EFSC members, “You folks don’t know about the Friends of the Gorge, but they are going to be all over you. Finally, they are on my side. Hallelujah!”
After the meeting, which spilled over its three-hour timetable, Energy Facilities Siting Chair David Ripma said the response to UPC’s Cascade Wind Project was the “most contentious” he had ever seen.
No representative from UPC spoke at Thursday’s meeting. The company issued a statement Thursday afternoon:
“We look forward to hearing from local residents who attend tonight’s meeting,” said Krista Kisch, UPC vice president, business development.
“We are at the beginning of a long process toward site approval, and appreciate the time folks are spending to participate in the siting process. We are reviewing all of the comments received so far, and plan to provide a supplement to the original application by Aug. 31.”
By Rodger Nichols
of The Chronicle
27 July 2007
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