If nothing else was clear following the close of Union County’s Antelope Ridge Wind Farm advisory vote hearing Wednesday, this was: people who love windmills generally don’t want the vote, and those not so fond of them, do.
In a packed-to-the-walls Misener Conference Room, the county board of commissioners listened for an hour-and-a-half as people gave their ideas on the potential vote, and threw in their opinions about Horizon Wind Energy’s proposed, 300-megawatt wind farm near Union.
I’m against the vote and for the windmills,” said Leslie Posey of Union. “We’re property owners and I feel we should be able to put them on our property if we want.”
Others see it differently.
“We have the right to not have neighbors who damage our setting,” said Marcella Pratt of Summerville as she testified in favor of the vote and against windmill impacts.
The county board of commissioners is trying to decide whether to use the ballot box this November to poll the public on the wind farm issue, even though the state and not the county will decide whether Horizon may build the facility, and even though the vote would not be binding on anyone.
At that, the purpose of the potential vote has become less clear with every session of the county’s hearing.
In the beginning, wording on the proposed ballot question concerned itself with whether the board of commissioners should adopt a formal position for or against the project.
But in the second session of the hearing last week, county counsel Brandon Eyre advised the board of commissioners against taking a position because Horizon’s application will be judged on objective standards by the state’s Energy Facility Siting Council.
Eyre said he wasn’t against the idea of an advisory vote, but suggested a ballot question that shifts focus from the county board to the desires of Union County citizens.
Then Wednesday night, a letter from local attorney Janie Burcart was read into the record. Burcart said she doesn’t think the county has authority to place an advisory vote on the ballot at all.
“Like all Oregon counties, Union County has the authority of referendum, but the referendum power has been historically understood to be limited to the approval or rejection of laws, not the giving of advice to public officials,” Burcart said.
Still, the hearing went on, with people peppering their testimony with opinions about the possible negative or positive effects of windmills on the community.
Those concerned with impacts on scenery, property values and wildlife tended to favor the vote, while those concerned with business, economic health, property rights and green energy mostly said the state siting process is adequate and no local advisory vote is necessary.
That’s been the tone of the hearing from the beginning. Still, there were a few new wrinkles last night.
Willard Bertrand, for instance, said he agrees with Eyre that the vote should reflect the desires of citizens, that the county board itself shouldn’t take a position.
Then he said the board should go a few steps further, polling the public not just on a general question, but on specific wind farm issues.
“There are several things that should be on the ballot,” he said. As one example, he cited lights on turbines.
Sushil Kumar, owner of a La Grande motel, also offered rare testimony. He was one of only a few who said he hopes the project goes forward, but wants an advisory vote just the same.
“You should get the opinion of every individual,” he said.
The issue of property rights came up more than a few times. Though several people testifying said landowners should be able to lease their property to Horizon if they choose, others said the property rights issue isn’t so simple.
“If I burn garbage in my woodstove, people downwind of me should have a say,” said Kevin March of La Grande.
During the second part of the advisory vote hearing Aug. 18, Dennis Wilkinson, chair of the anti-wind farm group Friends of the Grande Ronde Valley, presented the board with a petition calling for a vote signed by 250 people.
In a counter move Wednesday night, Steven Summers presented a petition against the vote signed by 220 people. As he delivered the document, Summers said he thinks the proposed $600 million project is vital to the economy.
“We need the jobs and the money,” he said.
Following Wednesday night’s session, the board adjourned without deliberating on the potential vote.
Chairman Mark Davidson said that during its regular session next Wednesday the board will decide whether to put a question on the November ballot.
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