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County OKs Lompoc wind farm permit extension; Planning Commission denies appeal

The Lompoc Wind Energy Project will move forward after the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission on Wednesday granted a time extension for its permits and denied an appeal of a neighboring property owner.

The project, which will place 65 wind turbine generators along the hilltops southeast of Vandenberg Air Force Base, was originally approved in 2008.

The commission unanimously approved a two-year economic hardship time extension for the project and in doing so denied the appeal of George and Cheryl Bedford, who own and live on acreage adjacent to the project.

The Bedfords have opposed the project since it was first proposed five years ago. They appealed the commission’s initial approval to the Board of Supervisors in 2009. When the board denied their appeal, they took their case to Superior Court, where a judge ruled for the county. They eventually took their case to the state Court of Appeals, which upheld the lower court verdict.

On Wednesday, attorney Richard Adam, representing the Bedfords, argued that time extension violated the plain language of both the original conditional use permit for the project and the Land Use Development Code.

Adam said the original conditional use permit “shall become null and void and automatically revoked” if the project is discontinued for more than one year. He said that more than a year had passed since Pacific Renewable Energy Generation LLC (PREG) had surveyed the area, and cut and graded service roads, when in their opinion work had stopped.

Quoting sections of the conditional use permit, Adam also said the Planning Commission could extend the permit “one time” for good cause.

The appeal also said the time extension violated the Land Use Development Code because it said the proposed project “would not be detrimental to the comfort, convenience, general welfare, health and safety of the neighborhood” and it would be compatible with the surrounding area.

Adam said the project, which will spread out over portions of approximately 2,950 acres off San Miguelito Road, is located on rural hillsides used mostly for cattle grazing and isn’t a compatible use.

Adam questioned the director’s authority to grant the permit and said the county shouldn’t “rubber stamp” time extensions.

Kevin Drude, supervising planner with the county, argued that the construction of the project approved by the permits hasn’t yet started, so it couldn’t have been discontinued for a year. He also said nothing in the project had changed since it had been approved, and that Planning and Development Director Glenn Russell had the authority to grant the time extension.

Jason Donajkowski, project manager for PREG, said the company sought the time extensions because of the economic downturn that began just as the project was approved. He said the company expects to complete engineering the project in 2014 and finish construction by 2015.