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County conducts hearing on wind-overlay expansion

Kittitas County commissioners will conduct a second public hearing on a controversial request to expand the county’s wind-power overlay zone east of Ellensburg this week.

The session begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Teanaway Hall at the county fairgrounds. The hearing is part of the county’s annual process to amend its comprehensive land-use plan.

Of the 17 requests to change the plan or alter the county’s zoning code and development regulations, the Columbia Plateau proposal has garnered the most controversy.

Columbia Plateau Energy Facility LLC, a firm based in Mill Creek, proposes a change in the county’s land-use designation map and zoning text that would expand the existing 500-square mile wind-power overlay zone by 5,760 acres to the west to take in private lands.

The county Planning Commission, after conducting a public hearing on Sept. 13, voted on Oct. 11 to recommend that county commissioners deny the expansion.

Since the September hearing, many of those against the proposal have formed a citizen and rural property owner-advocacy group that’s opposed to the expansion and has hired a land-use attorney. The group, Kittitas Residents Opposed to Windfarm Sprawl (KROWS), wants all future wind-power development to stay in the existing overlay zone, which was formed in 2007.

In addition, a statewide group, WindWorks!, is weighing in on the local issue by spotlighting the economic benefits to the local community of a future wind farm at the expansion site. The group is made up of citizens and wind-power companies.

Coming closer

Harland Radomske, a spokesman for the KROWS group, said a petition will be handed to commissioners with more than 500 signatures in opposition on Tuesday.

“We are finding health issues related to wind farms and concerns with interference with aviation and radar,” Radomske said late last week. “These will be brought out.”

Landowners in the area continue to express their worry that their rural views will be harmed and their land values will drop if a wind farm is built, he said.

“The existing wind farm overlay zone was created back then as a place where the wind farms should go,” Radomske said. “We trusted our county that those projects would be over there, not close to us. Now they are coming west toward us by moving the zone’s boundaries. They are ramming this down the throats of property owners who will be directly affected.”

A spokeswoman for WindWorks! Northwest, Debbie Strand of Ellensburg, said in a news release that an economic study shows that a Columbia Plateau project would produce more than $1 million in annual tax revenue to local governments and create 11 permanent jobs with an annual payroll of $710,000.

Kittitas County commissioners, at the Tuesday hearing, will formally review the recommendations from the county Planning Commission and take public comments.

As in past public hearings on the comprehensive plan, commissioners can make decisions after the hearing or extend the hearing to a future date for a meeting to deliberate and make final decisions.