Controversial EFSEC emails surface in court. • EFSEC Chairman Jim Luce writes local ‘input’ not what windfarm side is about. • Judge describes EFSEC chairman as ‘loose cannon.’ • Commissioners question EFSEC integrity, while state government officials express shock and dismay.
CLE ELUM – In what could be characterized as a startling new development, on Friday, Dec. 7 the Kittitas County prosecutor’s office filed a petition with Thurston County Superior Court bringing to light evidence some countians agree challenges the integrity of the Governor’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC), the nine-member appointed board that recommended the Governor override Kittitas County Commissioners and allow a controversial 65-turbine wind farm to be built 12-miles northwest of Ellensburg.
In a Superior court document dated Friday, Dec. 7, filed by Kittitas County prosecutors, Residents Opposed to Kittitas Turbines (ROKT), and Attorney Steven Lathrop, reference is made to email correspondence apparently originating from EFSEC Chairman Jim Luce sent to Ann Essko (Attorney General’s Office), Chris Towne (Fish & Wildlife), Allen Fiksdal (EFSEC), and Adam Torem (EFSEC).
In the email cited, apparently dated two years prior to EFSEC’s adjudicative proceedings in the wind farm matter, Chairman Luce allegedly wrote the County’s wind farm siting process would “circumvent EFSEC” and “EFSEC will lose credibility as a way to process applications effectively.”
In another email attachment cited in the same court document, dated November 28, 2006, Chairman Luce allegedly wrote to Chris Towne: “BOTTOM LINE: If EFSEC cannot preempt on these facts it will lose any credibility it has a[s] a State siting council … if we don’t preempt 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.”
Once again, from the same court document, another email is cited from Chairman Luce to Chris Towne, dated Dec. 4, 2006, in which Luce allegedly wrote, “[IJ937/Forum Shopping Means More Business,” and “What this case is not about … Local input,” which according to the court document, was something Luce wrote “just before the (wind farm] matter was remanded to EFSEC by the Governor for additional public hearing.”
Judge Astonishes Courtroom
Kittitas County prosecutors reported Friday/Dec. 7, that “Governor Gregoire, the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC), and developer Sagebrush Power Partners asked a Thurston County Superior Court judge to immediately certify the record of the Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project to the Supreme Court, which would effectively shut the door to newly released documents revealing potential wrongdoing by EFSEC Chairman Jim Luce.”
County prosecutors countered that, “the recently discovered documents, which include evidence of potential bias, prejudging, and violations of State appearance of fairness requirements should be included in the record sent to the Supreme Court. The materials in question were disclosed in response to an ongoing public records request previously made by the County.”
That request, according to the prosecutor’s office, was made six months ago.
Luce Loose Cannon?
“Although declining to rule on how the newly discovered evidence should be interpreted,” county prosecutors said, “Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks characterized EFSEC Chairman Luce as a ‘loose cannon.'”
“Hicks went on to state,” county prosecutors added, “that if a judge had written about a matter pending before him the way Luce wrote about the Kittitas Valley Wind Power project, he would be ‘hauled up before the State Judicial Conduct Committee.'”
“As a result,” county prosecutors said, “the judge refused to certify the record to the Supreme Court, and instead ordered EFSEC to disclose all remaining materials the County had asked for by Dec. 21. In addition, he gave the County permission to take depositions, and set a briefing and hearing schedule to consider supplementing the record.”
Reaction: Rep. Judy Warnick, R-13th District
“I’m very concerned about the new information uncovered by the Kittitas County prosecutor on the EFSEC process for the Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project,” Warnick said Monday, Dec. 10. “This is a prime example of why local citizens do not trust government.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s wind farms or pig farms,” she added, “the state shouldn’t be making the decision on the site. To quote former Senator
Harold Hochstatte, ‘The issue is not the issue, who decides the issue is the issue.'”
“From the beginning,” she said, “I’ve supported and expected that local citizens’ voices would be heard and considered. The EFSEC process should be fair and unbiased, with the interests of citizens as the top priority. Anything short of these outcomes is unacceptable.”
Reaction: Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-13th District
“I was disappointed and shocked,” Hinkle said, “to learn of the information obtained through Kittitas County’s public records request to the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) regarding documents created during EFSEC’s consideration of the Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project.”
“Government,” he added, “and all of its agencies exist to serve the public, not themselves. However, this disturbing trend is becoming all too familiar in Olympia.”
“The views of local citizens,” Hinkle said, “are essential for this project and others like it in the future. It is not acceptable that the EFSEC showed blatant bias and compromised the trust of residents. Olympia needs to get back to the basic principle of governing – listening to the people.”
Reaction: Congressman Doc Hastings, R-4th District
“While this is a local and state matter,” said Will Marlow, a spokesman from Hasting’s Washington office, “Congressman Hastings is very concerned about the emails uncovered by the County and the troubling actions of Governor Gregoire’s office and EFSEC. Congressman Hastings has directed his staff to talk with County officials and to monitor this matter very closely.”
Reaction: Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-13th District
The senator was in transit to Washington when this story broke – to meet with the President, according to a spokesperson from her office.
Reaction: County Commissioner Allen Crankovich
“I have deep concern and disbelief resulting from information discovered in Kittitas County’s Public Disclosure request from EFSEC,” Crankovich said.
”It appears the EFSEC decision to recommend preemption of the Kittitas Valley Wind Power Project was an act of self-preservation for the Council rather than a thorough evaluation of the project itself. EFSEC Chairman Jim Luce’s comments clearly demonstrate that the local and EFSEC public processes were merely acts of ‘going through the motions’ and that he had already made his determination. This seriously questions the credibility of EFSEC as an appointed board. In my mind, this demonstrates total disregard for any public process and may damage beyond repair any level of public trust towards EFSEC. An injustice has been done to all.”
Reaction: County Commissioner David Bowen
“I place my trust in the democratic process on a daily basis,” Bowen said. “To find the EFSEC decision was predetermined and systematically manipulated by Chairman Jim Luce since February 2004 is an inexcusable abuse of his appointed position in state government.”
“Unfortunately,” he added, “through his actions, Mr. Luce has irreparably damaged the credibility of EFSEC in evaluating sites for alternative energy facilities, a true injustice for all involved.”
Reaction: County Commissioner Mark McClain
“Our community,” McClain said, “the applicant, and the tenants of fair and impartial review have been hijacked by EFSEC, by Mr. Luce in particular, and the Governor’s Office, by prejudging the application.”
“Our Prosecutor’s Office,” he added, “has uncovered documents, which demonstrate Mr. Luce’s aim. This is unfair to all involved and casts serious doubt about this process, those involved, and the Governor’s decision to appoint Mr. Luce, not to mention his fitness to serve our community.”
Reaction: Industrial Wind Action Group (IWAG)
Linda Linowes, Executive Director for IWAG, an organization recognized nationally for the assistance it offers groups and individuals concerned about proposed wind projects, had this to say late Friday night, Dec. 7: “We are finding other governing boards throughout the United States to be less than patient with the public’s participation on wind farm projects and have long suspected undue influence coming from legislators and/or the governor’s office, i.e., politicians anxious to demonstrate their state’s green credentials and a general unwillingness to recognize the harmful impacts of wind energy on abutting properties and the natural environment.”
“Admittedly,” Linowes added, “I was surprised to see the Kittitas County story traced to Chairman Luce’s ego and petty concerns for his own relevance. It remains to be seen whether other communications between the Governor’s office, EFSEC members, and perhaps Horizon Wind also helped drive the board’s recommendation that the governor overturn the county decision.”
“We hope,” she concluded, “the situation in Kittitas County is an anomaly that is dealt with swiftly and harshly and the public’s trust restored, but we are concerned the actions of the EFSEC chair are not unique and may be more pervasive when wind energy is the topic.”
Countians Are Helpless?
Gloria Baldi of Ellensburg has been actively involved in politics for the last 40-45 years.
“We’ve lost some and we’ve won some,” she said, “but I always believed in the democratic process, though it was obvious to me, when I sat in on the EFSEC public hearings, they already had their minds made up.”
“With the news about Luce, this is the first time in four decades,” she said, “I’ve become discouraged with the process, and I feel helpless to do anything about it.”
by Jim Fossett
Northern Kittitas County Tribune – 12/13/2007
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