Umatilla County Commissioners turned back a challenge Wednesday to the Chopin Wind Project, and allowed WKN USA to build a 33-turbine, 99-megawatt wind farm between Milton-Freewater and Athena.
Blue Mountain Alliance, a conservation group that wants stricter guidelines on siting wind turbines in Umatilla County, appealed an Oct. 10 planning commission decision approving the wind farm. The county commissioners rejected the alliance appeal, 2-1. Commissioners Dennis Doherty and Bill Hansell voted to reject the appeal.
Commissioner Larry Givens, who voted in support of it, said he wanted more studies on issues raised by Blue Mountain Alliance, especially noise, viewshed, effects on wildlife, property values and cumulative effects.
“I still have too many questions,” Givens said. “I’m not opposed to a wind project. But I cannot support this application and I won’t support the application until further work is done on these issues. I think we need to take further time, more time to get more solid evidence on what is being created by what we’re building.”
Hansell said he felt an obligation to uphold the county law.
Blue Mountain Alliance contended the county should apply new, more restrictive site requirements to the Chopin project. Those include a 2-mile setback between homes and turbines to minimize noise.
But County Attorney Doug Olsen said old, less restrictive requirements applied because WKN USA first submitted its application in February, well before commissioners amended the law in June. Though Blue Mountain Alliance argued the application was not complete until August, Hansell referenced statutes stating the first date of an application applies. And applicants have 180 days to complete the application.
Doherty said he approved of a compromise reached by the planning commission with WKN USA’s Pendleton attorney, Steve Corey. It stipulated the wind farm meet state noise standards and the company perform noise studies in the first, third and fifth year of operation.
Corey proposed WKN USA do those surveys, for the company to pay the county to do them, or for the company and county to agree on an outside contractor.
Corey and Olsen agreed to finalize the stipulations and the commissioners will likely sign the final order within a week, said County Planning Director Tamra Mabbott.
The Chopin Wind Project is slated to be built north of of Staggs and Ferguson Roads on farm land between Pine Creek and Lower Dry Creek. WKN USA is a U.S. subsidiary of a German company, Windkraft Nord.
Though the commissioners returned the permit to build to WKN USA, the company is unable to start construction until it has a power line set to take energy from the wind farm to the regional grid, Mabbott said. On Nov. 17 the planning commission denied the company’s planned route to connect to a PacificCorp line. Mabbott said WKN USA has until Dec. 8 to appeal that decision, or it can propose another powerline route.
Blue Mountain Alliance also has options. The group can appeal the commissioners’ decision to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, or later to state appellate courts, Mabbott said.
Blue Mountain Alliance members were not sure what their next step would be. Ed Chesnut said he wasn’t surprised at the outcome. He estimated the appeal’s chances as 50-50, especially in dealing with sensitive issues like noise. Debbie Kelley said she was disappointed.
On the opposite side, WKN USA project manager Eric Johnston said he is “very happy” with the commissioners’ decision to uphold the planning commission decision.
• February 2011: WKN USA seeks permit for Chopin Wind Project
• June 2011: Umatilla County imposes a 2-miles setback between turbines and homes
• Sept. 29 and Oct. 10: Umatilla County Planning Commission holds hearings on permit application
• Oct. 10: Commission approves a conditional-use wind-farm permit
• Nov. 4: Blue Mountain Alliance appeals that decision.
• Nov. 17: Planning commission denies WKN USA power-line route
• Nov. 28 and 30: Umatilla County Commissioners hear Blue Mountain Alliance appeal
• Nov. 30: Commissioners deny appeal, give go-ahead to Chopin Wind Project
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