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Wind site expansion sought

It’s likely the Kittitas County Planning Commission on Tuesday will hear both impassioned support and opposition for a 5,760-acre westward expansion of the county’s wind power overlay zone, the first step toward a possible 80-turbine wind farm.

The seven-member Planning Commission, with two current vacancies, is set to conduct a public hearing 6 p.m. Tuesday on the proposal and 16 other applications to change the county’s land-use plan.

So far, the wind power zone expansion request from Columbia Plateau Energy Facility LLC of Mill Creek has generated the most interest in the community.

Wind farms go through a rigorous review process outside of the county’s overlay zone. The process is streamlined within the county’s wind power overlay zone.

Cindy and Wayne McMeans, rural county residents of Colockum Road more than four miles northeast of the city of Kittitas, said they’ll attend the hearing in Room 109 at the courthouse in Ellensburg.

The couple, who’ve lived in the county since 1970 and own 1,100 acres, don’t want the zone’s expansion if it means a wind farm coming closer to their property and home.

According to information they’ve received from the county, the expansion area’s extended boundary, at one point, would be up against their property line for about a mile.

Their land extends north from Brick Mill and Colockum roads. Most of it is leased to cattle operators.

Cindy McMeans said the expansion area runs along the southwest corner of their land.

“I’ve always wanted to be a good neighbor but I draw the line on an industrial energy complex,” she said earlier this week. “I just can’t sit by and let this happen.”

Having a say

Supporters of wind power development in the county also will have an opportunity to make their case at Tuesday’s hearing.

“I think enlarging the (overlay zone) is a positive thing,” said Ron Cridlebaugh, director of economic development for the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce. He’s spoken with representatives of the project.

A representative of the chamber will be at the meeting, he said.

Having the overlay expanded to take in the site of a possible wind farm will give more certainty about the future of the project if it becomes a reality, Cridlebaugh said.

“It looks like a good project, and it’s at a good site that’s just about the same as the two other wind farms in that area,” he said. “It’s in an area that makes sense for these projects.”

He said there are landowners in the proposed expansion area who are willing to sell or lease their land for the project.

According to Columbia Plateau Energy Facility’s application for the expansion, the border of the enlarged area would be a minimum half mile from existing structures in the rural area.

That doesn’t satisfy Cindy McMeans, who questions why the project can’t stay within the existing wind power overlay zone.

“If this is approved, how much farther will projects be allowed to creep out of the zone?” she asked. “It’s such a beautiful valley; it’s a crying shame what an industrial wind farm can do to it.”

Help the community

Keun Ryu, managing partner and member of Columbia Plateau Facility LLC, in previous comments, said the expansion area is equally and ideally suited for the construction of wind farms as in the existing overlay zone.

Ryu said with the expanded area, Kittitas County has a better chance of ensuring that wind farms are designed, sited and built with local concerns taken into account.

“We want to be a part of the community that helps the community and contributes to the community with more employment and taxes,” said Ryu.

Erin Anderson of Ellensburg, an attorney representing Columbia Plateau, said seeking approval of the expansion area is only an initial first step, an exploratory one, to see if a future project is possible.

“There’s no specific project formally proposed at this time,” Anderson said earlier this week.

She said the project involves the investment of private funds, both from South Korea and the United States, and it’s likely the project won’t qualify for federal investment tax credits and production tax credits.

Anderson said any future project won’t have any more impact than the existing Wild Horse and Vantage wind farms have on the land, wildlife and the scenic viewscape.

“The choosing of this area to expand the overlay zone was not an arbitrary choice,” Anderson said. “The area has been shown to be compatible with wind power development.”

Ryu said although the company has targets for the possible size of the project, there’s been no decisions made on the exact details; expanding the overlay zone is the first, essential step before anything else can happen.

A local consulting firm working for Columbia Plateau, East Mission Consulting LLC, is headed by Bill Hinkle of Cle Elum who said his involvement is limited to outlining how permits would be sought for a future project, the coordination of contractors and other issues.

Hinkle, who is a state legislator and has announced his 2012 run for county commissioner, said Columbia Plateau’s first choice is to go through county government’s review and permitting process, rather than using the state process for wind farm approvals.

Predictable

Cindy McMeans said if a wind farm eventually comes to the expansion area, the sight of future turbine towers and noise from turbines will devalue their land before it is passed on to other generations of the family.

She and her husband didn’t take part in the forming of the 500-square-mile wind power resource overlay zone in the east part of the county in 2007, thinking that’s where wind farms would go in the future, and it was far enough from their land.

“The neighbors I’ve talked to so far don’t want it either,” Cindy McMeans said of the expansion area. “Why can’t they just keep it all in the overlay zone? Why do they have to creep out of it? If they stay in the zone, well, that’s predictable, we know where they’re going to be.”