CHEYENNE – Some Cheyenne City Council members think a proposed wind energy project could be the key to recreation development at Belvoir Ranch.
During its meeting Monday night, the council will consider leasing more of the land – an additional 4,700 acres – to renewable energy company NextEra Energy for the Roundhouse Renewable Energy Project.
The $335 million project, still in the permitting phase, would power northern Colorado communities.
The city approved a lease agreement with the company, identified as Cheyenne Wind LLC, in 2012 to build a wind farm on 12,000 acres of the city-owned ranch. Now, council members may amend the lease, allowing NextEra to build on nearly all of it.
By 2020, Belvoir could be part of the 30,000-acre wind operation built on public and private land north of the Wyoming-Colorado border, southwest of Cheyenne.
The city purchased Belvoir in 2003 for $5.9 million. Five years later, officials created an extensive master plan that included new walking and mountain bike trail systems, a campground and picnic areas.
Due, in part, to budget cuts and priority adjustments through the years, those plans were stalled. The land is still inaccessible to the public.
“This is going to give us the ability to leverage revenue to the city and expand recreation,” said Councilman Rocky Case. “There would be limitations on use of the property during construction, but they would build roads to get their towers in there, and we may be able to use those roads. It might also reduce the cost of the plan overall.”
But some people, including Barb Gorges with the Cheyenne High Plains Audubon Society, are concerned the wind farm won’t be compatible with recreation.
She said the city may be overlooking details of the master plan, too, because those who drafted it recommended Belvoir’s elevated western region be prioritized for wind development.
Gorges said officials should consider public input before opening additional land.
“I don’t think you can have a wind farm and recreation,” she said. “Not unless you get noise-cancelling headphones for everyone. My main concern, at this point, is not whether wind energy is bad or good, but that they had a master plan and don’t seem to be paying attention to it.”
Richard Zita, the city’s Greenway and parks project manager, was also reluctant.
“I do worry about compromising a pretty incredible, close-to-town recreational opportunity,” he said in an email. “I’ve been out there only once, but was impressed with the simple, understated beauty of the rolling topography and the big sky.”
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Roundhouse Renewable Energy Project director, said NextEra is working with the city to ensure his plans are compliant with existing and proposed Belvoir land uses, including the master plan.
“I know recreation is one of those uses,” he said. “This does not interfere with that. If the city decided to open it to the public and have recreational trails, it will work with our project.”
Fitzpatrick, a Cheyenne native, said the project would generate about $39 million in property taxes over the 30-year project’s lease term. Payments to private landowners could exceed $60 million.
“This proposed expansion in acreage would add some revenue for the city,” he said. “I think this could turn Belvoir Ranch into something that returns on investment.”
Case said he’d like to guarantee portions of the revenue go directly to fulfilling the master plan.
“The revenue we would receive from this is significant,” he said. “It would likely be enough to build the master plan and recoup the nearly $6 million we originally bought the land for.”
Councilman Scott Roybal agreed.
“The ends will justify the means,” he said.
When asked how the project may affect Belvoir’s aesthetic appeal, Case said the benefits outweigh the potential risks.
“I’m not a big fan of altering the landscape with wind towers, but that’s the way energy is going,” he said. “We can either get ahead of this thing and capitalize on it, or wish we would have years from now.”
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