ELK MOUNTAIN – Wind power has seen unbridled expansion for decades while questions regarding the process of land reclamation after turbines have outlived their usefulness remained unconfirmed until Tuesday.
The consistent and continued expansion of wind power has left many such issues unchallenged, which made the Carbon County Commissioner’s decision regarding reclamation soil depth an important precedent.
While the county set a depth for six inches of soil reclamation in the initial phases of wind development in the 1990s, the depth ignited debate over the potential issues caused by soil being blown off the 68 turbines to be replaced by PacifiCorp, a Warren Buffet-backed power company.
At the commissioner’s April 9 meeting, they decided to shelve the issue to investigate the vocal opposition to what seemed to many to be woefully inadequate depth of soil reclamation.
The meeting also highlighted worries of landowner wishes being ignored in favor of compliance to standards, some deemed inadequate. These concerns were vigorously contested by representatives of PacifiCorp, arguing they had always taken landowners concerns into all plans.
The project is also estimated to add more than $14 million in tax revenue, making the enormous weight of precedent further added to by the potential lost revenue.
Thus, when the commissioners once more came together to decide the contentious issue, all sides prepared both for compromise to allow the project to move forward with minimal delay. PacifiCorp further prepared witnesses to counter accusations of poor landowner relations.
PacifiCorp requested to add a turbine to the plan and asked whether the increased number would require the company to make further changes to their conditional use permits. Sid Fox, AICP planning director for Carbon County Planning and Development, stated a single turbine would not change the footprint of the construction enough to require once more beginning the paperwork slog.
With the number of turbines settled, the debate soon turned to what standard should reclaimed turbines be held to. Fox recommended using Bureau of Land Management standards of 36 inches when reclaiming turbine bases.
PacifiCorp felt this standard was acceptable; however, their representatives emphasized setting this precedent could rob landowners of control over their land. They went on to state their company had negotiated reclamation depths of far greater than six inches in the past and that requiring 36 inches has the potential to tie their hands when dealing with landowners requesting shallower depths.
“You are the cream of the crop we have had to deal with as far as wind energy,” said Commissioner Sue Jones, “There are many more (companies) behind you.”
Jones’ words of praise were backed up when PacifiCorp requested one of the Foote Creek Rim 1 landowners speak to their reliability.
“I’ve dealt with them for ten years, and they’ve been good neighbors,” said Les Dunmire, landowner at Foote Creek Rim 1. “If they say they’re going to do something, they’re going to do it.”
Dunmire further expressed frustration at the county potentially robbing him of autonomy when dealing with changes on his land saying, “I don’t think the county commissioners should tell me what to do on my deeded land.”
Even with this expression of doubt and the many voices of ranchers among the county commissioners, the weight of precedent still pushed votes in favor of requiring 36 inches for soil reclamation.
Commissioner John Espy argued similar circumstances with far less respected companies have nearly destroyed native plant life in other portions of the state as ranchers took on the responsibility of reseeding in exchange for healthy bonuses to their initial use check.
“Sometimes, you have to be protected from yourself,” said Espy. “I hate that I just said that! But this land’s gotta be there for future generations and in as good a shape as we can send it off to them.”
With this, the commissioners adopted the changed statues, requiring all former turbine bases to reclaim the soil down to 36 inches, bringing the county in line with BLM reclamation standards.
Other discussions and actions:
n An official lease was signed for the Medicine Bow building to house the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office as well as Road and Bridge shop, with employee housing for both departments.
n A camera upgrade for the courthouse, paid for using grants from the Department of Homeland Security and the Supreme Court, was officially approved to begin the construction process.
n A preliminary design for a corner’s building was approved to begin the long process of drafting and redrafting prior to state fire marshal submission.
n A silhouette of a mare and a colt, designed and built Rawlins High School students, was approved to sit at the High School, while also absolving the county of any responsibility for the device.
n New carpets for the jail were approved, with a winning bid of $11,075.
n A large third-party audit of the county’s finances was approved. The company’s payment will be for 12 months with the county keeping 50 percent of any over-charges found by the investigation.
n An agreement between Encampment and the county was approved that would notify of any usage permits are filled within a few miles of the city.
n County agreed to purchase a vehicle for Public Health, which would be leased by the state to cover costs.
n Brush Creek Ranch received a microbrewery license. The brewery would likely be finished in the summer, and would only be used for personal consumption by the staff. The ranch hopes, however, to eventually expand their beer into commercial sales.
n Salvation Army reported their use of Aspen Alley Ranch as a camp and wilderness experience during 2018. Their report was well received and they will use the property in the same manner for the upcoming summer.
n Bill Nation, superintendent of Road and Bridge, reported his teams are restoring the roads worn down by this year’s snow removal. As for the snow, Nation states, “There was an extreme amount of snow removal.”
n The county has begun the long process of creating a master plan for the Dixon airport.
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