Kittitas County on Wednesday charged a state council that makes decisions on county wind farms with being biased against the county’s position and against public testimony from those in opposition to a local project and also alleged the council’s chairman violated appearance of fairness rules.
Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) and governor-appointee, Jim Luce, prejudged the 65-turbine Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project before final decisions were made, was biased against the county’s stance against the project and expressed disdain for public comment on the project.
“Those disclosures … are startling and undermine basic tenets of how we all believe government should operate,” Zempel said in the release.
Zempel also alleged that comments made by Luce as far back as 2004 on the Kittitas Valley wind farm project indicate that Luce put the credibility and continued existence of EFSEC as a higher consideration in ruling against the county than what was best for the energy needs of the state.
“The picture that emerges is of a misguided bureaucracy that is determined to protect its existence and power at all costs,” Zempel said.
“The last thing it wanted was to be ‘of the people.'”
Luce, a retired attorney, contacted Wednesday declined to comment on the allegations stating he routinely doesn’t make statements on cases pending in the courts.
Zempel alleges that Luce in a Dec. 4, 2006, e-mail said the wind farm case and overruling the county’s rejection of it was not about local input.
The county said a Nov. 28, 2006, e-mail from Luce stated, in part, “… if we don’t pre-empt we are effectively out of business as a ‘state siting council’ and should turn siting power projects totally over to local jurisdictions … Shame on us for not forcing this issue earlier.”
Zempel said EFSEC’s “twisted need for self preservation” was allegedly evident in a Feb. 24, 2004 e-mail from Luce that stated, in part, “if (the) county disagrees and litigates, then (the) legislature may choose to amend the statute.”
In that same e-mail, Zempel said Luce indicates the county’s position as being “very unpersuasive” two years before the county presented its official case.
The county’s allegations come before a Friday hearing in Thurston County Superior Court which will decide if the official record that details how EFSEC and Gov. Chris Gregoire earlier this year approved the Kittitas Valley wind farm will
be closed by the court. The wind farm is sought by Horizon Wind Energy for a site 12 miles northwest of Ellensburg.
The county is appealing the governor’s Sept. 18 wind farm approval decision to the state Supreme Court and is joined in the challenge with Kittitas Valley resident Steve Lathrop and a citizen’s advocacy group, Residents Opposed to Kittitas Turbines.
Before the case state goes to the highest court, the Thurston County court must decide whether the voluminous record on the case – now totaling
16,483 pages – should be officially closed and sent to the state Supreme Court. Those records include EFSEC’s decision to overrule Kittitas County’s rejection of the wind farm, EFSEC’s recommendation to approve the project and the governor’s final decision to let the wind farm be constructed with conditions.
Thurston County Superior Court officially received the record on Nov. 30 and Dec. 3. EFSEC has moved the court immediately certify the record as complete and closed and seeks that decision at the Friday hearing.
The three appellants want the record left open stating more time is needed by them and the court to examine the huge record of decision. The county also wants the court to approve a schedule that will allow the appellants to add to the record additional information that may come to light in examination of the record, requests for more documents and interviews with officials.
Deputy Prosecutor Neil Caulkins said he believes more in the record exists that hasn’t been brought to light that will help the county’s appeal. He said Luce’s appearance of fairness violations and prejudging the project is enough to have the Supreme Court remand the project approval back to the governor for reconsideration or to remand it back to EFSEC to decide the entire issue over again.
“EFSEC is trying to shut the door on adding to the record even before the record has been adequately examined,” Caulkins said.
The county also alleges appearance of fairness violations occurred in regard to EFSEC allowing representatives of the Department of Natural Resources to remain on the EFSEC panel despite the agency having leases with Horizon for turbine locations on DNR land.
The DNR rep was allowed to stay on the panel and help draft an order indicating why he should stay on the EFSEC panel after the county challenged his participation.
“This sort of self interest and pre-judging indicate that those making the decision were anything but unbiased,” Zempel said.
The assistant attorney general representing EFSEC, Kyle Crews, this morning said there is nothing surprising in the record, despite its size, because all of the documents have been available and under review by all official parties to the case in past EFSEC proceedings.
“We feel the record is complete and ready to go to the Supreme Court,” Crews said. “We believe it should all go forward. The material has been out there.”
He said the arguments the county is making about prejudging, appearance of fairness and others are those that should come before the Supreme Court for a decision.
County Commissioner Alan Crankovich, in a prepared statement, said it appears EFSEC’s decision to overrule the county was an act of self preservation, according to Luce’s comments rather than a thorough, unbiased evaluation of the project itself.
By Mike Johnston
(The Daily Record)
[via Residents Opposed to Kittitas Turbines (ROKT)]
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