Dangers to birds and bats, loss of oak trees, destruction of scenic views, and impacts to Chumash sacred sites were among concerns raised Thursday about a commercial wind farm proposed for land on a ridgeline near Lompoc.
Approximately 50 people showed up at Lompoc City Hall for the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Energy Division meeting on the Strauss Wind Energy Project to air concerns about the possible environmental impacts.
The applicant, Strauss Wind, LLC, is an affiliate of BayWa r.e. Wind, LLC.
The Strauss Wind Energy Project’s (SWEP) Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Report was released in late April with comments now due June 14 after county officials extended the deadline by a week.
The 102-megawatt project, capable of supplying electricity to approximately 44,000 homes, is proposed for land 4.2 miles south of Lompoc, and is similar to the approved-but-never built Lompoc Wind Energy Project (LWEP).
The Strauss project calls for 30 wind turbine generators up to 492 feet tall; a new 7.3-mile, 115-kilovolt transmission line to interconnect with the Pacific Gas and Electric Company grid; an approximate 1-acre substation; an approximate 1.4-acre switchyard; and an operations and maintenance building.
Potential dangers to birds and bats prompted several comments from members of two Audubon Society chapters who called the environmental analysis inadequate.
“Incorrect siting can lead to disaster. We urge a bird-friendly design,” said Dolores Pollock, president of the Santa Barbara chapter of the Audubon Society.
Speakers called for removing wind turbine generators from ridgelines, noting the likelihood for harm to birds, especially raptors, and urged a state-of-the-art solution to avoid harming birds.
Attorney Richard Adam said the environmental document failed to adequately address the visual aspects of the towers, which at nearly 500 feet tall would be akin to a 50-story high building in New York City.
“It’s a big structure,” Adam said. “The blades we’ve already talked about are 75 yards long, three-quarters of a football field and I believe they’re about half as wide. These are big structures. They’re heavy.”
The environmental analysis for the Strauss project builds upon the studies from the previous proposal, but several speakers contended that earlier document was outdated.
Sam Cohen, government affairs and legal officer for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. mentioned the significant differences between the prior project and the Strauss proposal.
“This is a new project,” Cohen said. “Just because they have windmills is just like saying every project that has a building is an old project. This is a new project.”
He also said state law requires tribal consultation for cultural resources and Native American sacred places, something that had not occurred.
“Wind towers and power lines desecrate the traditional cultural property and the traditional cultural landscape,” he said.
Stacy Lawson, Lompoc senior environmental coordinator, also mentioned several aspects that concerned city staff.
One worry centered on the fact that Lompoc operates its own electric system and wanted to ensure connections related to the wind farm don’t interfere with the city’s ability to operate and maintain its own electric system, Lawson said.
An estimate of 16,189 trucks trips per month through town over a 10-month construction period also sparked questions about who would pay for the impacts to city streets and a reminder that heavy vehicles would require permits from Lompoc.
She also noted limited emergency communications in the area while suggesting the applicant should be required to install an additional cell phone site and radio repeater to fix the problem.
A Strauss neighbor said the project essentially would place 30 industrial sites on land near his home.
“As you can see, there’s lots more questions than there are answers in this EIR,” longtime Lompoc Valley businessman and resident George Bedford said.
He also criticized the DSEIR, one of several residents angry the study doesn’t address impacts on them.
“In fact, it looks like the residents are invisible in this report,” said property owner Jean Beattie.
Several speakers called for the environmental report to be revised and recirculated.
The project could cause the loss of hundreds of oak trees, although the environmental report identified an environmentally superior alternative that would save nearly 400 trees.
The Draft Supplemental EIR can be found by clicking here, or at Planning & Development offices located at 123 E. Anapamu St., Santa Barbara, or 624 Foster Road, Suite C, Santa Maria.
Draft documents are also available for review at the Lompoc Public Library, 501 E. North Ave. in Lompoc, and the Santa Barbara Public Library, 40 E. Anapamu St.
In addition to the public hearing, comments may be sent by mail to the project planner, Kathy Pfeifer, 123 E. Anapamu St., Santa Barbara, CA 9310, by fax at 805.568.2522, or by email at [email protected] prior to 5 p.m. on June 14.
While Thursday’s meeting focused on environmental issues, a Planning Commission public hearing is expected to occur in the fall, when the panel will consider the project’s approval or denial, county staff said.
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