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Wind project decision delayed

The question of whether Ridgeline Energy Corp. will receive a special use permit for its proposed 150-turbine Goshen South Wind Project in a Natural Resources/Agriculture Zone in the mountains east of Blackfoot remains unanswered following a public meeting Tuesday of the Bingham County Commission.

The commissioners met to consider two appeals of the County Planning and Zoning Commission decision when it voted 4-3 on April 23 to grant the special use permit for the project.

The decision was appealed to the County Commissioners by Lavar Grover, Stan Hawkins and Natural Guardian Limited Partnership, all of Idaho Falls.

Following two and a half hours of reviewing the transcript of Ridgeline’s public hearing on the SUP before the P&Z board, the County Commissioners voted to postpone a decision until June 2 at 1 p.m. in their chambers.

Chairman Wayne Brower cautioned the audience not to contact the commissioners in an attempt to influence their decision, and said they will not discuss it among themselves.

Commissioner Cleone Jolley made the motion to postpone the decision. “I have a couple of issues I would like to do some more research on before making a decision,” Jolley said.

Commissioner Ladd Carter seconded the motion and the vote was unanimous.

Brower said at the start of Tuesday’s meeting, attended by close to 100 people, the task of the commissioners was to review the transcript from the public hearing and determine whether they had followed the zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan and properly addressed the concerns raised before arriving at their decision to grant the SUP.

The commissioners reviewed testimony from the public hearing that spanned 12 hours on two separate nights, and point-by-point went over the reasons for reversal stated by the appellants that included:

• It violated constitutional and statutory provisions.

• Was an excessive use of the P&Z commission’s statutory authority.

• Was made by unlawful procedure.

• Doesn’t comply with Idaho’s Local Land Use Planning Act, the county’s Comprehensive Plan and zoning ordinance, and was arbitrary and capricious.

• Power production is an industrial use and not permitted in an NR/A Zone.

• The three minutes allocated by the P&Z board for each person to testify did not provide them adequate opportunity to be heard.

• The application was not filed by the owner or occupant of the property as required by law.

• A “Wind Farm” is not an NR/A use.

• Wind is not a natural resource.

• Notice of the public hearing was defective because it inaccurately stated the acreage involved.

The commissioners studied the transcript and asked questions of the county’s zoning administrator Melodie Halstead, zoning department head Alan Jensen and Deputy County Attorney Eileen McGovern.

Halstead said it’s true that the legal notice advertising the public hearing stated the acreage of the proposed wind power site at 10,212 instead of 20,212 due to a typographical error, but that the aggregate acreages stated in the legal descriptions of the land that accompanied the ad came to 20,212.

The appellants said one of the reasons the decision should be reversed is that two P&Z members had only attended the second half of the hearing and should not have been allowed to vote.

Halstead said the two were provided with audiotapes of the first half of the hearing, along with all of the exhibits. “They were up to speed,” she said.

McGovern said in her opinion it wasn’t sufficient reason to prevent them from voting on the decision.

As to the complaint that granting the SUP doesn’t conform to the requirement of the zoning ordinance that the permitted use be compatible with historical and traditional uses of the land, Commissioner Ladd Carter said those uses were grazing.

Regarding the point that the wind turbines would result in loss of scenic and historical features of the land, Halstead said the P&Z board had argued for and against it and decided they will have less impact than some other uses being made of the land. She said so far, no historic features have been identified there.

Brower commented that people who recreate in Wolverine Canyon and around Forty Horse Cave and the Narrows might dispute that.

Jensen said the reason wind power is not listed in the zoning ordinance as a natural resource is that it didn’t exist on a large scale at the time the ordinance was written.

When it comes to loss of recreational opportunities, Jolley said, most of the land in the energy corridor is working land and privately owned.

The commissioners said that power generated by wind doesn’t fall into the same class as industrially generated power.

Brower said he was concerned that having a Site Selection Committee as required by the P&Z board will not adequately address the issue of safety with regard to the wind towers falling.

By Emily Hone

Blackfoot Morning News

28 May 2008