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Wind farm plan sent back to commissioners

BLACKFOOT – It could be months before a decision is made on a controversial wind farm project in Wolverine Canyon.

On Monday, Bingham County commissioners sent Ridgeline Energy’s proposal – which asks for a conditional-use permit to erect 150 turbines in the canyon – back to the county’s planning commission for another public hearing to discuss board member Larry Kohler’s potential conflict of interest.

Kohler, who voted in favor of the proposal when the planning commission granted the conditional-use permit by a 4-3 margin April 23, owns land within 300 feet of the project.

That creates a potential for a conflict of interest, Commissioner Wayne Brower said, facilitating the need for another public hearing.

The planning commission will discuss that at 7 p.m. July 9. Only public comments about the potential conflict will be allowed.

At the hearing, the commission members and legal council will decide whether Kohler should have been allowed to weigh in on the project, Brower said.

Then a new vote on Ridgeline’s proposal will take place.

“”What nobody knows is if that conflict is declared, will that change the feelings of the other board members?”” he said.

Ridgeline Vice President Rich Rayhill, however, is confident the planning commission will vote in favor of his proposal again.

Kohler declared the potential conflict at the planning commission’s first public hearing in March but didn’t let it affect his decision, Rayhill said.

“”We don’t think there was any funny business,”” he said. “”(Kohler’s) got nothing to hide. We’ve got nothing to hide.””

Ridgeline’s proposal calls for the 263-foot turbines to be scattered across 20,000-plus acres in the canyon east of Shelley.

Several landowners near the project appealed the April 23 approval, saying the wind farm would industrialize a canyon that’s popular with hikers, bikers, climbers, anglers, ATV enthusiasts and more.

Any decision made by the planning commission July 9 can be appealed to the county commissioners within 10 days.

If that happens, the proposal probably will be back in front of the three-man commission in August, something the county commissioners expect.

“”This is just the beginning,”” Commissioner Cleone Jolley said.

Did you know?

Ridgeline Energy first requested a conditional-use permit to build the wind farm in September.

By Nick Draper

Idaho Falls Post Register

3 June 2008