About six months after Mark McClain moved to Kittitas County, he was driving to work when he saw a neighbor struggling to get an uncooperative cow to go through a fence. Although McClain was wearing a suit, he jumped out of the car and helped out.
That’s one example of the small-community feel that McClain cherishes, and part of the reason he’s concerned about managing the region’s growth as a county commissioner.
Key to managing that growth, he said, is maintaining local land-use control – which is why he’s unhappy about a state decision to override the Kittitas County Commission and allow the Kittitas Valley Wind Power project to be sited near Ellensburg.
A state energy-siting panel recommended that Gov. Chris Gregoire approve the project, which she did on Sept. 18. The county has appealed that decision, and the case will likely head to the state Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the Desert Claim wind power project has also applied to the state body, the Energy Facility Siting Evaluation Council, for precedence over local decision makers.
Kittitas County is at the epicenter of wind-energy development in the state for two reasons: It’s got powerful winds and easy access to transmission lines that can carry electricity west over the mountains to the Puget Sound area, where there’s lots of demand for power.
McClain said he and the other commissioners are not opposed to wind power. The commission already welcomed the Wild Horse wind project, which was built in a remote part of the county and faced far less local opposition. And this summer, the commissioners created a 500-square-mile overlay zone in the eastern part of the county that they identified as suitable for wind-farm development. Developers who want to put a project there would have streamlined permitting.
McClain said that having wind farms in the county generates property-tax revenue for school districts and other services that were hurt by tax-cutting Initiatives 695 and 747. For example, with the Wild Horse project, permit fees alone were a significant source of revenue.
But in the case of the Kittitas Valley and Desert Claim projects, he doesn’t think the state siting panel should recommend overruling locals.
“What I think this demonstrates is (the panel) overstepping its bounds,” he said. “Our planning staff is more than capable of siting projects like these.”
By Dierdre Gregg
28 December 2007
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