The Umatilla County commissioners removed a provision Tuesday that allowed property owners alone to waive a 2-mile setback between homes and wind turbines.
For the time being setback requests will be handled as just another request for a variance from county land-use codes. Those and other changes came in response to a ruling in January by the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, which found the county law fell short in several areas.
David Price of Athena, representing Blue Mountain Alliance, a conservation group from the Milton-Freewater area, supported the commissioners’ moves. Bend attorney Bruce White, representing Jim Hatley of Pilot Rock, owner of 1,900 acres on Weston Mountain, flatly opposed them. Hatley has leased property to EDP Renewables, the parent company of Horizon Wind, although no wind farms operate there and none are proposed.
“We believe these ordinances do not have any incentives for development of wind energy,” White said. “If you look at the record it’s very clear that the whole purpose of these ordinances is to restrict wind energy development. There is nothing here that encourages it.”
County Counsel Doug Olsen said the revised ordinance, first approved in June 2011, takes effect Tuesday.
The state appeals board ruled the 2-mile setback waiver process unconstitutional, although it had no problem with the setback requirement itself. The commissioners tasked the county planning commission with devising another process for addressing waiver requests.
Sara Parsons, spokeswoman for wind power company Iberdrola Renewables, commended the commissioners for allowing setback waivers. However, she said her company still did not agree with the setback requirement itself.
Commissioners also removed the Goal 5 reference in the law that designates the Walla Walla watershed in the Blue Mountains for stricter requirements for wind turbines. White opposed removing the designation, especially as it applies to threatened and endangered species.
Goal 5, according to the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development website is broad statewide planning goal that covers wildlife habitats, historic places and other categories.
State regulations describe how cities and counties are to plan and zone land to conserve resources listed in the goal, according to the website.
“Clearly those are Goal 5 resources,” White said. “You can’t escape addressing Goal 5 simply by re-characterizing or not mentioning the term Goal 5.”
The provisions setting aside the watershed are broader than a Goal 5 study, Olsen said. The watershed protections apply to non-Goal 5 resources, like highly erodible soils, he said.
Doherty said he spoke with representatives from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation to ensure treaty rights would also be protected.
The state appeals board found portions of the county comprehensive plan did not agree with the new wind-siting ordinances. County Planning Director Tamra Mabbott outlined each disputed policy and addressed how the county abides by them – mostly reflecting on the county having “clear and objective” standards wind power companies must abide by. Commissioners approved the language she proposed outlining those points.
White disagreed and argued the comprehensive plan issues are not just a checklist to work through, but represent a fundamental bias against wind energy in the county.
“The problem with that is you can have clear and objective standards, but if they’re so onerous – and in this case we believe they are – then whether they’re clear and objective or not does not encourage wind energy development,” he said. “What this does, basically, is tell wind energy developers to go somewhere else.”
Commissioner Dennis Doherty, after discussing policy issues with White for a half-hour, said he understood the attorney’s stance. But he said finding a balance between state demands for renewable energy and the quality of life for those living near wind turbines,motivated his decision to continue on the path the commissioners started on in June.
“I believe that what we’ve done before is adequate,” Doherty said.
The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals found issues in three areas of the wind turbine siting laws the board of commissioners passed in June 2011. Commissioners addressed them Tuesday.
• LUBA found the county process to waive the 2-mile setback between homes and turbines unconstitutional.
Solution: Commissioners removed the provision for a waiver and asked the Umatilla County Planning Commission to address the waiver issue.
• LUBA found the county didn’t provide documentation of the proper Goal 5 process when it set aside the Walla Walla Watershed with stricter guidelines for wind turbines.
Solution: Commissioners removed the Goal 5 reference in the ordinance.
• LUBA found portions of the county comprehensive plan did not agree with the new ordinances.
Solution: Commissioners approved wording for each disputed policy and addressed how the county does abide by the comprehensive plan – mostly reflecting on the county having “clear and objective” standards companies must meet to build a wind project.
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