Whistling Ridge wind farm, just outside Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, gets siting plan vote
Washington’s energy facility siting council will deliver its recommendation tonight on a project that could bring the region’s wind farm boom, with all its attendant controversy, into the heart of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
The council will vote on whether to approve the $150 million Whistling Ridge wind farm, a 50-turbine project in Skamania County on land owned by SDS Lumber and Broughton Lumber near the city of White Salmon.
The 420-foot turbines will be visible from White Salmon, Hood River, I-84 in both direction, as well as from other popular destinations in the scenic area, such as Viento State Park and the Columbia River Highway. The siting council’s analysis concluded that the project would have a low-to-moderate impact on the viewshed, though opponents note that the study was paid for by SDS.
Critics such as Friends of the Columbia Gorge also contend the company’s wildlife and noise surveys were inadequate, and that the minimal amount of energy generated won’t be worth the permanent damage to the scenic area. Five organizations, led by the Seattle Audubon Society, filed this week for regulators to undertake a new analysis of how the project would impact the spotted owl, an endangered species.
SDS Lumber, which originally proposed the project in 2009, is a big employer in the area, and Skamania County supports the project, including the jobs and tax revenue the project would bring to the area.
The council can accept reject or recommend modifications to the project, including the removal of specific turbines. Its recommendation goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who has 60 days to accept, reject or send the project back to the council for additional work.
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