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N. Powder council may adopt pro-wind farm resolution

NORTH POWDER – Residents living in North Powder and surrounding rural areas took the chance to speak for and against the proposed Antelope Ridge Farm Wednesday, as the city council met in a special session at the Wolf Creek Grange.

The council is considering adoption of a resolution that declares support for construction of Horizon Wind Energy’s facility on Craig Mountain near Union, based in part on the fact that 65 percent of voters within the city limits said in last November’s wind farm advisory vote that they favor construction.
The council called the special session because people living in the rural areas around North Powder – the majority of whom voted no in the advisory vote – said they wanted a chance to express their views. The session was open to all, city and non-city residents alike.

Of the 20 people who showed up, half testified. First to speak was Curtis Martin, who lives outside the city. Martin said he appreciated the council taking extra steps to make sure everyone had their chance to state their opinions.

But he also said he thinks it is wrong for the council to make a decision based only on the wishes of city residents.

“I think it’s a sad commentary for the council to ignore the rural community. It’s very much an error and a shame,” he said.

Countywide, 53 percent of voters said in the advisory vote said they do not want to see the wind farm built. In more testimony, Martin condemned the Union County Board of Commissioners for not taking a stand against the wind farm.

“It was a negative vote and for the commissioners to ignore it is like the arrogance we’re seeing in the national leadership these days,” he said.

Martin also said he believes wind farm construction will lead to a decrease in area property values. He cited several studies that say value of property close to wind farms does go down.

Another rural resident speaking against the wind farm was Janet Dodson. Though she lives outside town, she owns rental property in North Powder proper.

Dodson, the former executive director of Union County Tourism, said her family has lived in the North Powder area for generations and that she cares deeply about the community’s quality of life.

She said she is adamantly opposed to the wind farm and the SIP agreement worked out between Union County and Horizon Wind Energy. According to Horizon and Union County, the agreement abates some taxes for the Antelope Ridge facility, but ensures more money stays local, and gives the county more control over how the money is distributed and spent.

Though the project will yield some economic benefits short term, long-term impacts will be negative, Dodson said.

“There are many reasons to oppose the SIP and the project. There are a lot of things in the SIP we need to look at more closely,” she said. “When somebody’s trying to push a quick decision on you, that’s the time to slow down.”

A few rural non-city residents testifying expressed support for the wind farm. Kent Shroyer, for one, said he thinks the city council should support the project.

“I think you should vote in favor because of the money that will come in. I think we should try and help the community all we can,” he said.

Among city residents testifying, Curt Cox said he favors the project because of the economic benefits.

“I think this wind farm fits hand in glove with the area. It’s not a strip mine. If it ever goes out, we can always tear the windmills down and sell them for scrap metal.”

Mike DeHaas, operator of the local motel, said he doesn’t believe the wind farm will hurt local tourism as some people have predicted.

He said he gets customers who express interest in visiting Elkhorn Valley, the wind farm Horizon opened at Telocaset near North Powder in 2008.

Dodson later took exception to Dehass’s statement, saying that as Union County Tourism director she learned that visitors most value scenery and outdoor recreation. Those values, she said, are seriously threatened by wind turbines.

Valerie Franklin, project manager for Horizon, attended the meeting and spoke briefly, summing up the Oregon Department of Energy’s facility siting process. She said she thinks it will be another year to 18 months before all issues are resolved.

The proposed resolution supporting the wind farm and the accompanying Strategic Investment Program agreement states that construction will likely result in economic benefits for the city and businesses.

It also cites economic benefits that will come to North Powder via the SIP.

The council will consider approval of the resolution during its March session.