Union County’s legal counsel advised the board of commissioners Wednesday not to adopt a formal position in support of or in opposition to the proposed Antelope Ridge Wind Farm.
Brandon Eyre recommended that if an advisory vote is held this November, the ballot question should shift focus from the board of commissioners to Union County citizens.
Eyre said he has concerns about the basic wording of sample ballot questions drafted by the board. He said he questions whether Union County should adopt a formal position on Horizon Wind Energy’s plan to build the 300-megawatt wind farm near Union.
“I’m hesitant to advise you to take a position. I’m hesitant to bind you to an action that’s irrelevant,” he said.
The board is holding a hearing on a potential advisory vote that would tell commissioners if a majority of citizens want the wind farm built. Ahead of the opening of the hearing Aug. 4, the board distributed copies of two drafts of the potential ballot question.
The question reads the same on both drafts: “Shall the Union County Board of Commissioners support the Antelope Ridge Wind Farm Application?” The drafts differ, however, in the accompanying explanations.
One draft says a “yes” vote will result in the board submitting a formal position supporting the application, and a “no’’ vote will result in the county opposing it.
The other draft says a “yes’’ vote will result in the commissioners taking up a position of support; it does not say the board would submit a statement of opposition in the event of a “no” vote.
But as the hearing continued Wednesday in the Misener Conference Room, Eyre said he doesn’t think the board should adopt a position, since the Oregon Department of Energy and not the county will approve or disapprove Horizon Wind Energy’s site application.
“My concern is it binds the county to take action the county doesn’t have authority to take,” he said.
Eyre stopped short of saying there should not be an advisory vote. He submitted another draft of the question, one that reads, “Do the citizens of Union County support the current Antelope Ridge Wind Farm application currently before the Department of Energy?”
“I’m not opposed to (the vote), but I’m opposed to something that requires the county to take an action,” Eyre said.
Horizon, the owner of the 100-megawatt Elkhorn Valley Wind Farm in Telocaset, wants to build the 300-megawatt Antelope Ridge facility in the Craig Mountain area in Union.
Its application to the state has not yet been deemed complete. When it is, ODE’s Energy Facility Siting Council will hold public hearings.
The Antelope Ridge proposal has been controversial and emotional from the beginning, with opponents saying construction will have negative impacts on Union County’s quality of life, and supporters saying the project should go through because it will yield jobs and economic benefits and green sustainable energy.
Friends of the Grande Ronde Valley, an anti-wind farm group, has been pressuring the board of commissioners to take a stand against the wind farm proposal. Recently, organized support for the wind farm appeared with the formation of a group called For Our Rural Oregon.
On Aug. 4, some 27 citizens testified, with a slim majority saying they didn’t want the advisory vote to take place. Wednesday, 33 people offered testimony, with 20 favoring a vote and 13 saying there shouldn’t be one.
At least one person who wants a vote registered objections with Eyre’s suggestion that the county board not take a stand.
“I support the ballot measure and I’m offended by legal counsel’s advice,” said Brad Wales of Cove.
Many of those against the vote said private property rights are at stake. One of those was Carol Byron, whose family owns a ranch in the area.
“Our dad always had a vision of harvesting the wind,” she said.
Byron said the EFSC siting process affords citizens with ample opportunity to state their views. She was one of several people urging the board continue the advisory vote hearing, with a session during an evening when more people can attend.
The board agreed with that, setting another round of testimony for 6 p.m. Wednesday.
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