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Event focuses on Wasco County wind project April 24

Citizens interested in learning more about a proposed wind power facility in southern Wasco and Sherman County will have the opportunity to attend an open house in Shaniko next week.

The informational meeting about the Brush Canyon Wind Power Facility, which would include 223 wind turbines, will take place April 24 at 6 p.m. at Shaniko School.

The Energy Facility Siting Council of the Oregon Department of Energy is currently reviewing the application for the proposed facility. Wasco County planning director John Roberts said the county, which will house about 68 percent of the project, is one of more than 25 agencies with an opportunity to provide input on the application.

“The application is three volumes, 14-plus inches and I reviewed every page,” Roberts told county commissioners at their April 17 meeting.

He said overall he feels good about the application, submitted by EC&R Development, LLC.

The proposed turbine sites are far enough away from residences and towns that they do not conflict with the enhanced siting regulations Wasco County adopted last year. Roberts said the 76,000-acre project is on land that is not suitable for farmland or grazing. He also said the developer, which owns 14 other projects around the country, seems very willing to make adjustments to the project for minimum impact to residents and the landscape.

“I think they did a pretty good job and they are serious about employing best management practices,” he said.

Roberts said there were some sections of the application – like impacts to wetlands and wildlife – that he didn’t review as thoroughly because there are other agencies reviewing the application that are better equipped to recommend amendments in those areas.

However, he did spot a few issues with the application that he recommend Wasco County bring up in its feedback to the Energy Facility Siting Council.

Roberts disagreed with developers’ statement that the fire safety standards in the county’s Land Use and Development Ordinance do not apply to the project. He said depending on Shaniko and South Sherman’s volunteer fire departments may not be adequate and he would like to see the developers work with the state fire marshal to come up with a more sustainable plan for addressing potential wildfire threats on project lands.

He also said he wanted to see the developers enter into a Road Use Agreement with Wasco County before beginning construction and work with the county’s Weed Division to create a plan for weed control. If the state approves the application Roberts said the developers will also be required to prove that its land parcels were lawfully created before being granted a permit by the county.

The last issue was one Roberts called a “sensitive issue” based on last year’s public hearings about wind energy rules: lighting. He said the county’s Land Use and Development Ordinance requires developers to explore options like radar-triggered lights to create the minimum amount of lighting necessary for safety.

“We want to bolster the notion that we are serious about them working with the [Federal Aviation Administration] to find the best way to mitigate light pollution,” Roberts said.

He said people who had voiced concerns so far about possible visual impacts to the John Day fossil beds were mostly worried about nighttime effects from blinking red lights.

Roberts said the Department of Energy was expected to make a decision about the application in September or October. As soon as developers pass that hurdle they can apply for conditional use permits in Wasco and Sherman County.