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Hearing under way on wind farm appeal

PENDLETON – The first day of an appeal hearing of the Chopin Wind Project tasked the Umatilla County Commissioners to define laws, boundaries and citizens’ personal preferences when it comes to wind turbines, noise and viewshed.

Members of Blue Mountain Alliance, a conservation group formed to oppose wind-farm development in the county, argued Monday against the Chopin project, which the county planning commission approved Oct. 10.

WKN USA, a U.S. branch of German company Windkraft Nord, plans to build a 99-megawatt, 33-turbine wind farm between Milton-Freewater and Athena. Though the planning commission approved the project, the appeal puts it on hold.

The county has scheduled two more sessions for the hearing: Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon both days.

Commissioner Dennis Doherty started the hearing by saying the rules applied to the Chopin Wind Project are those in place when WKN USA first filed its paperwork in February of this year. The county passed stricter wind-power siting standards at the end of June.

Dave Price, one of four Blue Mountain Alliance members who gave a two-hour presentation to the commissioners, cited county laws and argued an application should be considered filed when it is complete. WKN USA filed its last paperwork in August.

Price also argued WKN USA’s noise study was not done properly. Price cited state laws stipulating when and how noise samples should be taken to determine the background sound level. State law allows wind projects to raise the noise level by 10 decibels.

The planning commission approved the wind farm with stipulations. Three stipulations require the company to meet state noise standards. County Attorney Doug Olsen said the planning commission overstepped its bounds.

Because county law prior to June 2011 did not stipulate a noise standard, the planning commission couldn’t impose that standard on the project, Olsen said.

Price worried those living near the wind farm would be vulnerable to the noise. He counted 22 houses nearby, half of which he called “in harm’s way.”

Commissioner Bill Hansell asked Price if any of those residents asked him to speak on their behalf.

Price said they did not. Price saw potential for himself being in the same position as those citizens, and also he wanted to do what he could to help them, he said.

Ed Chesnut, also of Blue Mountain Alliance, showed views from Highway 204, the Tollgate Highway, which county has designated as a scenic resource. Though the view is already dotted with wind turbines and city lights, he argued one more wind farm was not OK.

That moved the discussion to cumulative effects – adding up how all the wind farms in the north county affect the landscape as a whole.

There are six wind farms, not counting the state-approved Helix Wind Project yet to be constructed, in the north county.

Chesnut said each new wind company changes the landscape, and the wind companies should be aware of that.

“Why should I have to meet this standard, the guy before me didn’t have to? Well, I’ve got an answer for that,” Chesnut said. “When he finished his project, now we’re at a new baseline.”

Hansell asked Chesnut how the rule of law related to this new baseline.

“Wouldn’t it be right that the law should be consistent across the board?” Hansell asked.

“At some point the cumulative effects have to be recognized and the law has to have the power to say that’s it, no more, not here,” Chesnut said. “Maybe somewhere else, but right here you’ve put enough of an environmental load on this area. You just can’t put any more on it.”