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Lumber company will apply to build Skamania wind farm

SDS Lumber Co. plans to apply for a permit before year’s end to build a wind farm in Skamania County that would produce up to 70 megawatts of power.

The project would be on a north-south ridge at elevations of 2,000 to 2,200 feet between Underwood Mountain and Whistling Ridge. The remote property lies east of the old mill town of Willard and about a mile north of the Columbia River Gorge ­National Scenic Area boundary.

“We’ve been evaluating the potential for a project for a number of years and we’re getting closer to moving forward,” SDS Lumber President Jason Spadaro said Friday.

The Saddleback Mountain project would feed the electricity it generates into the Bonneville Power Administration grid. A few of the project’s turbines would be visible from within the national scenic area, Spadaro said.

But unlike a project of similar size proposed on the Oregon side of the river, the SDS project would be distant from houses and population centers.

The Cascade Wind Project, proposed by UPC Wind Partners for a ridge near Mosier, Ore., has drawn strong opposition from many gorge residents. It would be sited on an east-west ridge just outside the scenic area boundary, and its 389-foot-high turbines would be clearly visible from highways, Riverfront Park in The Dalles and The Nature Conservancy’s Tom McCall ­Reserve.

Westernmost project

The Saddleback Mountain project would be the westernmost wind project yet sited in the gorge.

Spadaro said SDS first explored building a wind project on its site in 2002, when it entered into a land lease with PTM Energy, a PacifiCorp subsidiary. That lease has expired. The company is conducting evaluations of the site before it decides to apply for permits by year’s end, he said.

SDS has conducted bird mortality surveys and other studies in preparation for submitting its application to the BPA and Skamania County. “We have done a lot of the environmental review that’s required,” Spadaro said.

In discussion phase

Spadaro said he has met personally with residents of the communities of Willard and Mill A to let them know of the company’s plans and intends to hold more meetings soon.

“SDS would like to diversify its energy,” Spadaro said. The company operates a biomass facility to help fuel its mill in Bingen.

The Saddleback Mountain Wind Project would ­

generate between 40 and 70 megawatts of energy, which would require installing ­between 30 and 43 wind turbines.

BPA has an open access transmission policy, which means it offers transmission interconnection to all eligible customers on a first-come, first-served basis, subject to federal environmental review.

Michael Lang of the environmental group Friends of the Columbia Gorge said he had not seen the specifics of the SDS proposal. “Who knows; maybe it’s fine,” he said. The Friends group has weighed in on another wind project in Klickitat County, asking the county to require a full environmental impact statement.

Dennis White, an environmental activist who lives in the Klickitat County community of Husum, said a regional discussion needs to take place about the cumulative effects of wind generation facilities in the Columbia Gorge.

“Wherever there’s a BPA line, we’re going to have these wind farms just outside the scenic area, up and down the gorge,” White said.

By Kathie Durbin
Staff Writer

The Columbian

5 September 2007