After hearing heavy opposition from a standing-room-only crowd at a Bigfork Land Use Advisory Committee meeting, Sandy Clare withdrew her conditional use permit application for a 77-foot wind turbine Thursday.
Clare – who is part of an ownership group that includes her mother, Elvira Johnston, that plans to build the Flathead Brewery and Pubhouse in Bigfork on the southwest corner of Montana 35 and Holt Drive – said she would instead have a wind study conducted for the 1.5-acre site.
“This isn’t the best wind site in the world,” renewable energy consultant Jeff Arcel told the crowd. Referring to the wind turbine, he encouraged the audience to “consider it a giant sculpture. It think it’s art.
“Part of the concept of the wind turbine is to put something out there that’s different,” he said.
Arcel said that Clare and Johnston had three pole heights to choose from in regard to placing the wind turbine: 45, 66 and 105 feet. They chose 66 feet because it would reach to the top of some nearby Ponderosa pines.
There is typically a one-to-two-year wind study conducted prior to placing such a wind turbine, Arcel said. “But we went to wind maps,” which were available online. Arcel said he believes the site will generate winds between 8 and 14 miles per hour, which would save the business about $600 a year in energy costs.
It would cost $23,000 to install the wind turbine – including $5,000 of federal tax credits.
The 400,000-watt wind turbine would begin producing energy at wind speeds of seven miles per hour, he said. “When you stand underneath the machine, you can barely hear it.
“You should be doing nothing but celebrating what these folks are doing and the way they’re doing it,” he said.
Arcel said the owners reported to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the wind turbine would generate 6,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year. The federal agency replied that they thought the wind turbine would produce 9,000 kilowatt hours a year, Arcel said.
“It’s a gamble we are choosing to do with our money … to be more efficient,” Clare said.
In responding to a question from a BLUAC committee member, Arcel said the company would lose 15 to 20 percent of the energy if it went with a lower height for the wind turbine.
The owners planned to locate the wind turbine in the southeast corner of the property. They considered locating it in the southwest corner where it wouldn’t be as visible from the highway, but were advised against that because of thick trees that would reduce the wind in that area, Clare said.
Ron McCormick opened public comment by stating that his phone call to project architect Mark Johnson was not returned. McCormick said Johnson picked the wrong person to not return his phone call. “Ninety percent of this (presentation) was designed to obfuscate rather than illuminate,” he said, calling the presentation a “greenwashing.” He questioned making the restaurant and brewery a “tourist destination for drinkers. It’s just what Bigfork needs: Another gin mill bringing in drunks from Kansas.”
Red Merlette questioned whether approving the wind turbine – which the county Board of Adjustment would have to do after receiving advice from BLUAC – would create a precedent for wind turbines on Montana 35.
“Ninety-five percent of the presentation we got here today was completely irrelevant,” Merlette said. “I find it appalling that you think this is a thing of beauty and art. If this wind turbine goes up, we’ll never enter the Flathead Lake Brewery,” she said, referring to herself and her husband. Clapping ensued.
“Do you pull it down after one year if it doesn’t produce?” Carol James asked. “I’ve found that once things get screwed up in this area, it’s really hard to unscrew them.”
Dave Naugh said he represents 38 home owners who live south of the property in North Shore Harbor Homeowners Association. He said 28 of them met June 22 and voted unanimously against the wind turbine. “It will interfere with the beautiful view of Flathead Lake going south into Bigfork,” he said. “The view increases economic development in our area.”
Herb Grant described viewing Flathead Lake for the first time while driving south on Montana 35. “As a stranger, it’s unbelievable! Why you insist on going forward with what is, at best a marginal producer, against the will of so many of us, I can’t understand.”
Lee White said he was concerned that the county couldn’t reject the conditional use permit because of how it impacts the view. “It’s a Solyndra as far as I’m concerned,” he said, referring to the California-based solar company that went bankrupt after receiving $535 million in federal loan guarantees.
Noting that the Board of Adjustment was scheduled to decide on the permit yesterday, Paul Mutascio asked the committee to recommend that hearing be postponed until County Planning Director B.J. Grieve could study the issue in a comprehensive way. “There’s no rush to put it in,” Mutascio said.
Carol Nelson said she was offended that Arcel wanted the visual impact of a wind turbine. “You really don’t care,” she said. “That view is so very precious.”
Ed Berry said he spent several years helping wind energy companies place their wind turbines in a good location. “They will be lucky to get $1 a day in wind electricity out of that turbine,” he said.
On the positive side, Kathryn Berg thanked the owners “for being willing to take that site and make it really attractive. I am so thankful it’s not a 65-unit condominium unit.” A number of attendees clapped in response.
Rob Tracy said he was affiliated with the Bigfork Fire Department. Clare has been a great contributor to the fire department, he said. “If people want to boycott the brewery, don’t send a check to the fire department either,” he said.
“That’s asinine!” an unidentified man shouted.
Toward the conclusion of the 2-hour, 15-minute meeting, Clare rose to speak. “After everything you guys have said today, I still believe in wind energy to a point. I think the best move is to do a study – take a year and see if the study looks really good. It will give us time to work together on building a better Bigfork. It was good for all of us to come together,” she said.
Clare added that the restaurant, which is scheduled to open in the spring, would close at 10 p.m. and maybe 11 p.m. in the summer. “This isn’t a garden bar,” she said. Flathead Brewery Co. owner Greg Johnston, Clare’s father, plans to begin brewing at the site in the fall. Clare projects that the businesses – which she plans to be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified – will create 30 to 40 new jobs.
At the conclusion of the meeting, BLUAC Chairman Shelley Gonzales said she would not have voted for the permit because wind turbines are not specifically mentioned in county zoning regulations. Earlier in the meeting, county planner Erik Mack said Grieve had determined that the wind turbine is similar to a pole or mast, which are mentioned in the regulations.
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