Kittitas County blew new life into a five-year battle over a proposed wind farm when county officials announced the county will appeal Gov. Chris Gregoire’s approval of the Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project.
The county prosecutor will file the appeal in Thurston County Superior Court before Oct. 18, said County Commissioner Mark McClain. The appeal then will be heard before the state Supreme Court.
Last month, Gregoire approved the project 12 miles northwest of Ellensburg. She said it was fulfilling the state’s demand for renewable energy. The governor stands by her decision, said Gregoire spokeswoman Kristin Jacobsen.
County commissioners said her decision does not take into account the environmental impact analysis they used to reject the project last year, McClain said. “There’s absolutely no basis for the granting of authority to move forward with this project that is consistent with the environmental impact statement,” he said.
Officials from Horizon Wind Energy, the Houston-based company developing the project, said the project already had support from several government environmental agencies and nonprofit groups, including the Sierra Club and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“We find it odd, quite frankly, to find an Eastern Washington county spending (scarce) taxpayer resources to prevent what would be the largest or second-largest single investment in the county,” said Chris Taylor, Horizon’s director of development. “Most counties try to spend dollars to bring investments in the county, not drive it away.”
Those opposed to the project have argued for years that the project is too close to neighboring cabins and homes and would alter the area’s rural landscape.
“If land use decisions are going to be made in Olympia or made by the governor, that discounts the individual citizens’ right to have the input on how their community grows,” McClain said.
One group that supports the appeal is Residents Opposed to Kittitas Turbines, a citizen’s group against the project, said member Linda Schantz.
After the project was unanimously rejected by county officials, Horizon tried to meet the county’s concerns by cutting the project from 121 wind turbines to 65. It then brought the project before the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, an appointed panel that reviews large energy projects around the state.
After the site evaluation council approved the Horizon project in March, Gregoire asked the council to take a second look to see if the turbines could be set back farther from nearby properties. The council approved the project with a request for Horizon to set back the turbines beyond the minimal requirements when determining their exact location.
Horizon expects to ultimately receive a final blessing for the project. “We spent five years on this process and we’ll see it through to its conclusion,” Taylor said. “The need for this project has only grown.”
McClain stresses, however, that the county’s appeal does not represent hostility to wind farms and that the commissioners recently passed legislation that would make it easier for developers to site future wind farm projects. It comes down to the ability for local officials to make land use decisions, he said.
“You have to follow the environmental analysis,” he said.
By Mai Hoang
10 October 2007
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