Kittitas County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday against an expansion of the existing wind-power overlay zone east of Kittitas.
The motion, made by Commissioner Alan Crankovich, responded to a request from Columbia Plateau Energy Facility LLC to expand the zone by 5,760 acres to the west for a future wind farm project.
The decision followed nearly three hours of public testimony Tuesday and a recommendation from the Planning Commission for denial.
Commissioner Obie O’Brien and Commission Chairman Paul Jewell also voted against the proposal.
“I don’t think it is appropriate at this time,” Crankovich said before making his motion. “If this is approved, where will it stop? How can we say no to the next request? It’s a domino effect.”
Comments during the public hearing, by one count, had 29 speaking against the expansion, and four calling on commissioners to approve it.
Crankovich, making his motion at the end of the Columbia Plateau hearing, said expanding the 500-square-mile zone isn’t needed to put a wind farm outside the existing zone. Wind-power developers can use an alternative county government review process that has more steps and requirements, he said.
Crankovich said Columbia Plateau has indicated the other county process is more “cumbersome,” but added that this is the process that’s in place which calls for a thorough, public review.
Crankovich said he disagreed with Columbia Plateau’s land-use attorney, Erin Anderson, about the difficulty in putting a wind farm inside the overlay zone on state or federal lands there. He said his contact with state Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark has showed him that the state Department of Natural Resources is open to leasing its lands for wind farms with appropriate review, and the other wind farms in the county have such leases.
Other state agencies also will cooperate with wind farm developers, he said.
Crankovich also disagreed with Columbia Plateau’s assertion that the criteria for the overlay zone was not well thought out in the past.
“There was a lot of work and thought put into the 2007 overlay zone,” said Crankovich, who added he was a commissioner when it was created.
The wind-power overlay zone, established by county government in 2007, was developed as a pre-identified area where wind farms are generally compatible with the current land use, and the siting process through the county is streamlined.
O’Brien’s motion to close all public testimony on the Columbia Plateau proposal at the end of the hearing was approved by commissioners, although Jewell said he was surprised at the motion.
Jewell said commissioners typically have left the record open for an amount of time after a hearing is closed to allow more written comments, and then commissioners meet for a final decision.
Columbia Plateau representatives requested that written comments be allowed for two weeks after the close of the hearing to answer concerns.
O’Brien said the record is more than 800 pages long and there was adequate information to make a decision that night. Crankovich agreed and said what’s been done in the past doesn’t always have to occur.
In speaking to the motion to deny the expansion, O’Brien said changes in the Kittitas Valley’s land-use and lifestyles will continue, and that reductions in land values, at least for his Ellensburg-area property, currently are due to the down economy.
He said he was concerned about Columbia Plateau’s assertion that past environmental studies from nearby wind farms could be used in evaluating the zone expansion.
“I want to do it right,” O’Brien said about making a decision on Columbia Plateau’s proposal. “We have to do what’s right for all the citizens.”
He added how hard the decision was. He listened carefully to both sides of the issue and that economic development and creating new jobs are a high priority for him, he said.
O’Brien also said he was concerned that adequate environmental review was done on the Columbia Plateau request.
O’Brien said if a site-specific wind farm proposal had been submitted, with locations of wind turbines and exact project boundaries, he would be more open to moving it forward for more in-depth examination by the county.
As it is, the proposal is only to expand the overlay zone and its land-use designation, and not approve a specific wind-power project, he said.
“I don’t agree with moving a line on a map at this time,” O’Brien said.
Jewell acknowledged it was a difficult decision, and that he can appreciate the concerns of property owners nearby. He also was considering Columbia Plateau’s points, he said.
“I have a lot of questions both ways,” Jewell said.
There were things in the proposal he could support, Jewell said, and wanted more time to review all the issues.
He added that it appeared to him that the Columbia Plateau proposal took in lands generally appropriate for expanding the overlay zone, but that more deliberation by commissioners was needed.