Kittitas County commissioners on Monday agreed to take Gov. Chris Gregoire to the state’s highest court to challenge her Sept. 18 decision approving the controversial 65-turbine, $150 million Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project, a wind farm proposed for 12 miles northwest of Ellensburg.
Commissioners, after a closed executive session, instructed the county Prosecutor’s Office to file the appeal in Thurston County Superior Court, the first step before going to the state Supreme Court.
State law requires such appeals to first be filed in Thurston County where the court certifies the legal record of the wind farm decisions before sending it on to the state Supreme Court for review, according to officials of the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, or EFSEC.
In a news release issued late Monday, Commissioners Alan Crankovich, David Bowen and Mark McClain said they believe challenging Gregoire “was appropriate” due to alleged legal and decision-making failures by EFSEC and the governor in approving the project sought by Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy.
Crankovich said the commissioners didn’t enter into undertaking the challenge lightly.
“For the first time in the history of the state of Washington the governor has overturned a local land-use decision,” Crankovich said in the release, referring to the commissioners’ earlier decision to reject the wind farm. “This is an extremely important issue not only to the citizens of Kittitas County but for the citizens throughout the state who rely on local, elected officials to make land-use decisions consistent with adopted comprehensive plans and local land-use rules.”
He said the commissioners rejected the wind farm because environmental impacts were not adequately mitigated or lessened.
Bowen said the governor’s decision “lacks authority to insure that this project benefits the citizens of the state of Washington.” He said there is nothing in the EFSEC recommendation or the governor’s final decision requiring power from the wind farm to be used exclusively in Washington.
Bowen also said Gregoire’s decision doesn’t require ways to significantly lessen the impacts from the wind farm, including those from tall towers, that were listed as impacts by Horizon and in an environmental study.
McClain said the state’s Growth Management Act gives local governments and their communities the authority to plan for land-use activities based on local circumstances and needs.
“It is our belief that the citizens of Kittitas County, through their local elected officials, expressed their decision on this application very clearly,” McClain said.
He said the county is the home of the Wild Horse project, the state’s largest wind farm, which was approved by county commissioners.
“This is not an action that is anti-wind power,” McClain said referring to the legal challenge, “rather it is an action on behalf of local government making land-use decisions consistent with their adopted comprehensive plan.” A major failure by the governor, according to commissioners, is that EFSEC and the governor failed to apply environmental documentation contained in the record regarding significant impacts from the wind farm planned for both sides of U.S. Highway 97.
They also contend the governor failed to give deference and weight to land-use decisions made by county elected officials; they also claim state agency representatives sitting on the EFSEC council didn’t excuse themselves from the decision even though the agency they represent stood to gain revenue from the construction of the project through leases.
By Mike Johnston
9 October 2007
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