POCATELLO –A Downey farmer has appealed a decision by the Bannock County Planning and Development Council granting a conditional use permit for a proposed commercial wind farm near his community.
An official with the North Salt Lake City, Utah, company backing the proposal said Tuesday he fears the delay caused by the appeal could put the project in jeopardy.
LA Wind hopes to build 15 turbines, each capable of producing between 3 and 5 megawatts of power, that utilize a new technology designed to accelerate wind speeds. The wind farm is proposed to be built on 200 acres between the U.S. Highway 40 exit from Interstate 15 and the city of Downey, about a half-mile south of Highway 40.
The Bannock County Commission is tentatively scheduled to hear the appeal on Oct. 14, according to officials with LA Wind. The commission’s decision may still be appealed in the court system.
Craig Criddle, who filed the appeal, said his chief concern is that the council never discussed how the project complied with the five standards that must be met under county code for a conditional use permit to be granted.
“I just felt like the board carelessly rushed to make a decision on this just because LA Wind was acting like they had to have something on the ground by the end of the year,” Criddle said.
Criddle was required to pay a $145 filing fee plus a deposit based on a $600 estimate of the cost of copying meeting transcripts, which the commission will review in basing its decision. Personally , Criddle, whose family has resided in the valley for four generations, opposes the proposal based on concerns that the turbines will be “monstrous” and would create “visual pollution for the whole valley.”
But he noted his personal beliefs are irrelevant to the appeals process.
“All that matters is that the Planning and Development Council follow the rules,” Criddle said.
Rick Wood, chief executive officer of LA Wind, said the appeal will put the project back at least a month. If the appeal drags on past the specified timeline or the commission returns with an adverse ruling, the company might have to opt for a “plan B” project. Wood declined to offer details of the backup plan.
“We are in a holding pattern until that (appeal) is done,” Wood said.
As for the hearings, Wood believes the proper procedures were followed, and he notes his company went to great lengths to solicit public input.
Wood said LA Wind went beyond requirements to notify residents within 300 feet of the property and expanded the area to 3,000 feet. He said the company has also hosted a town meeting in Downey and another informational meeting in Pocatello in advance of the recent public hearing in Pocatello.
“There was ample information provided weeks in advance of the public hearing for the council members to study and learn,” Wood said.
Planning and Development Council members Karen Cordell and Ben Coffin, however, shared Criddle’s concern that there was insufficient discussion to grant a conditional use permit.
Cordell cast the lone “no” vote in a 4-1 decision. Coffin abstained from voting.
“I’m not against the project. If it’s what they claim it’s to be, I think it’s really exciting ,” Cordell said. “However , I did feel like we should have discussed it further. I felt like it warranted further discussion because it’s such a large project. If this goes through, it’s going to change Downey forever.”
Coffin said he, too, doesn’t oppose the project in concept , but he questions why the council has invested considerably more time in the past in deliberations over less significant applications.
“I wouldn’t vote because I felt like we hadn’t had enough time to look at the information. I felt like we needed more time to put conditions together if we did accept it,” Coffin said.
Bannock County Planner Steve Ernst noted the applicant intends to install a quarter-scale unit before the end of the year to run on a test basis over nine months. That data should answer questions pertaining to the effects on wildlife, noise concerns and other issues, he said.
In addition to the wind farm, Wood said LA Wind intends to build a facility to manufacture certain parts for the turbines. While the company originally estimated the facility would need to have between 25,000 and 40,000 square feet, LA Wind now intends to locate in a facility with at least 50,000 square feet. He believes Pocatello offers the best potential locations.
LA Wind is an offshoot of Land Advocacy, a company that consults on private and governmental land acquisitions. He said LA Wind, which partners with Sterling Wind, manufacturer of accelerator turbines, is considering a number of other energy projects in the Intermountain West.
Copyright Idaho State Journal Sep 29, 2010
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