The Terra-Gen wind energy project received a denial from the Humboldt County Planning Commission on Thursday, concluding an emotional series of meetings in which the commission appeared to be veering toward approval before swinging the other way.
It was Commissioner Noah Levy who gave every indication he would support the project before suddenly deciding, under intense public pressure, that he needed more information before granting approval.
Levy’s decision brought the commission to a 3-3 vote, killing a motion to give Terra-Gen a positive recommendation. In an ensuing vote to deny the project, Commissioner Alan Bongio joined Levy in flipping sides, effectively ending the project’s hopes at the commission’s table.
Importantly, Terra-Gen can appeal the commission’s vote to the Board of Supervisors, which will have the final call at the county level.
Across three weekly meetings that stretched cumulatively more than 15 hours, the vast majority of speakers at public comment stated their opposition to Terra-Gen’s plan to build a cluster of wind turbines on the Bear River and Monument ridges above Scotia.
Speakers pointed to the land’s history as a sacred site belonging to the Wiyot Tribe, as well as the wind farm’s potential impacts on the area’s biodiversity and Scotia’s ridgeline vista. They excoriated Terra-Gen’s private equity ownership, saying its motives would be exclusively profit-based.
Commissioner Melanie McCavour synthesized many of these concerns into a lengthy, passionate speech about the project’s scientific flaws and what she characterized as an unforgivable compromise of sacred Wiyot lands.
“The idea we are pulling up plants and offering them to the tribes is embarrassing,” McCavour said about a suggested mitigation of using sacred tribal lands for the project. “It’s shameful. It’s insulting.”
Commissioner Peggy O’Neill sided with McCavour, unfavorably noting Terra-Gen’s outsider role in a major economic project at home.
“If we were going to do this project and reduce all the impacts, it should be a local project,” O’Neill said.
But the pair initially didn’t find solidarity among any of the other commissioners. Bongio said he had grown up seeing every Humboldt County project shot down, suggesting the county “give something a try.”
Commissioner Mike Newman compared the widespread opposition to the project to NIMBYism – a common “Not in My Backyard!” disapproval of local development. Newman also brought up recent Pacific Gas and Electric Co. power shutoffs, drawing a connection between the wind farm and wanting to keep his refrigerator cold during an outage.
Commission Chair Robert Morris pointed out that the Wiyot tribal land could one day be fragmented into multiple parcels with different ownership, suggesting that keeping the ridges under singular control would be beneficial over the long term.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Morris said of the project. “It won’t solve everything in one fell swoop, but it’s a step.”
But the commission didn’t take the step, as Levy – who at one point engaged hecklers in the public about the value of his character in supporting the project – suddenly stopped short of approval when the matter came to a vote.
Many in the audience erupted in cheers and applause following the denial vote.
At press time, most were still reeling from the sudden turn of events. Terra-Gen executives will have the option of appealing the denial to the Board of Supervisors in the coming days.
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