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County P&Z gives project’s final phase OK

BLACKFOOT – A Salt Lake City company that began a renewable energy project east of Goshen nearly nine years ago was given the go-ahead by the Bingham County Planning and Zoning Commission Wednesday night to complete the final phase of the project.

Following a public hearing, the commission approved Conditional Use Permits for rPlus Energy to erect 19 commercial wind turbines at the Cedar Creek Wind Project and install up to 40 PV panels for the adjoining Cedar Creek Solar Project.

The solar project includes support structures and electrical equipment for transmission of the power produced at the site located on 700-800 acres owned by Brent Steffler. The wind project will be 19 turbines on 2,700 acres owned by LaVar Grover.

Acting zoning administrator Leigh Ann Davis told the zoning board the rPlus projects have been done in four phases, with the first granted a CUP in 2008, the second in 2010, and the third in 2016.

She read a written comment from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, which said while the department neither supports nor opposes the wind farm, it’s concerned about potential harm to wildlife posed by the 184-foot metal towers, particularly ungulates such as deer, elk and moose because the area is part of their winter range, and for birds as well as winged predators and bats.

According to the letter, 2,300 deer and 500 elk inhabit the area and disturbances affect their over-winter survival rates. It suggested that the P&Z board include language in its permit to ensure that the companies take measures to mitigate disturbances.

Presenting the project for rPlus, Elon Hasson from Portland, Ore., told the board wind power technology has improved greatly since its inception to the point that the energy it produces is cheaper, making it more inviting to Idaho. “This is the opportunity for Bingham County to enjoy some of that energy,” Hasson said.

Board member David Tanner waned to know how long the turbines last. The response was that due to improved technology they last 60-80 years.

With regard to IDFG’s letter, Hasson said studies were made by the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the company follows their recommendations, making every attempt to mitigate wildlife mortality. He said cattle graze beneath the turbines without harmful effects

Twenty to 30 people attended the hearings, but only six testified. Five were in favor of approving the CUP for the wind farm and one was against it, saying it would be destroying a pristine area.

Chris Street, one of those in favor, said he lives not far from the site, and he would rather see wind turbines there than houses

Luigi Resta from Salt Lake City made the presentation on the solar farm, saying the area will be fenced to protect the panels from large livestock that might damage them, but sheep can be grazed there. He said construction, scheduled to begin in 2020, will take eight months and benefit the community economically with the 200 jobs it brings as well as adding to the county’s tax base when completed.

He said energy from the projects is already contracted to Pacific Corps, which, due to improved technology for renewable energy, “Is shifting very fast from coal.” Resta said the energy produced here will not be shipped to California. Nor will the structures be abandoned when they wear out. He said the panels will last 30-40 years and be replaced when they become useless.

The vote to grant Conditional Use Permits for the projects was unanimous, and the decision can be appealed to the county commissioners.

The zoning board also approved a Conditional Use Permit for John F. Ball to transfer one division right on his property, and voted to recommend that the county commissioners approve a lot replat for Sherma Carlson in the Country River Estates Subdivision and a zone change from Light Commercial (C1) to Heavy Commercial (CV2) for John Brady and Eric Hale on their property at Riverside off Highway 39.

In testimony to the board, Brady said their property was already zoned C1 when the county made a “blanket change” of land around them to C2 leaving them on an island.

A public hearing on the replat is scheduled before the county commissioners for Jan. 21 at 10 a.m., and one for the zone change the same day at 2 p.m.

The zoning board was spared a painful decision when Earl Hebdon withdrew his application for a Conditional Use Permit to place a personal use gun range on his property at 220 W.,450 N., after two of his neighbors expressed opposition to it.

Davis announced that there will not be a P&Z meeting in January.