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NIMBY, and proud of it

Since 2004, Shell WindEnergy has been quietly making its way around Bear River Ridge. Only recently, somewhat surprisingly, Shell’s plans for an elaborate Wind Turbine Project along the Ridge finally came to the attention of the citizens of Ferndale.

In a recent editorial piece in the Times-Standard, two scholarly gentlemen from HSU’s Schatz Center lauded this project at length. They wrote in response to a My Word essay in which Ferndale resident Ann Barbata made the concise declaration: “I do not want Shell Wind in my backyard.” Calling themselves “energy practitioners,” the Schatz representatives breezily dismissed this NIMBY remark in their enthusiasm for Shell’s plans.

They spoke with the weight of their academic and scientific credentials. Such authority can definitely influence public opinion in the county at large. It can do so in a way, however, that does a disservice to the residents of Ferndale. These scholars failed to recognize or acknowledge the particular realities our community faces concerning this project and its location. Schatz Center is either unaware of or simply does not care about the complicated situation in which Ferndale finds itself.

Not-in-my-back-yard statements are commonly brushed aside as being unscientific, not credible, and irrelevant. Often, however, such comments are the consequence of considerable open-minded thoughtfulness and should be interpreted as meaning, “I have enough information;
more persuasion, either scientific or anecdotal, is not required; and I don’t want this project at this location.” Concerned citizens in Ferndale do respect science and its methods and have given Shell’s proposal much thought.

I wager that everyone in Ferndale is for Green Energy. But this particular Green project planned for the Ferndale area comes with many enormous negatives. The site itself and access to it are, by almost all criteria, so fraught with logistical difficulties and environmental perils (geological, hydrological, biological) that it hardly seems prudent or profitable for Shell even to consider it.

Yes, wind on the ridge is strong, but the road to the ridge itself is not. Since 1992, the instability of the hills above Ferndale has become demonstrably evident. An enormous and spontaneous slide occurred last spring in the watershed of Ferndale’s Francis Creek (a source of our water and a threat in flood time due to increased siltation). It is quite possible that this unexpected slide may impact seriously our new sewer plant and the ongoing restoration of Salt River.

Even if the turbines Shell ultimately chooses are shorter than the ones currently discussed (a height of 446 feet with blades measuring 300 feet across), the weight of every section of each turbine is extraordinary, and there will be 25 turbines. Add to that the vast tonnage of cement, aggregate, and trucked-in water for on-site production of the concrete needed to make the turbines’ huge (80 feet in diameter) foundations. And to that add the activity of thousands of truck trips to deliver all of the required materiel to the site. This heavy trucking traffic will occur on the fragile Wildcat Road (Shell’s preferred route), requiring widening of the roadbed and the making of severe new cuts into hillsides.

All of these significant disturbances will happen on a landscape already in motion. And for months and months and months, these activities will impact daily life in Ferndale in innumerable and unknown ways.

The Schatz Center’s professors simply overlooked these issues in their op-ed article. They painted a positive green picture for the county to see, leaving out the perils and sacrifices Ferndale must now consider. Apparently, in their exuberant interest in Shell Wind, the Schatz energy practitioners think that industrializing the gateway to the priceless Lost Coast is acceptable – at any cost.

If we build Green projects in inappropriate places, we defeat ourselves and our good intentions. Scientific method is not required for me to know this.

On the above considerations alone (and there are many others), I say: I don’t want Shell’s Turbines in the Front Yard of the Lost Coast; I don’t want Shells’ Turbines in the backyard of Ferndale; and No, I certainly do not want Shell’s Turbines in my backyard.

Jere Bob Bowden resides in Ferndale.