Another marathon meeting brought the same result.
After more than 10 hours of public comments, Shasta County supervisors voted 4-1 to deny an appeal by a company that wants to build a controversial wind farm in the Intermountain area just west of Burney.
Tuesday night’s denial upholds the June 22 unanimous decision by the Shasta County Planning Commission to reject the use permit for the Fountain Wind project. Commissioners heard nearly 10 hours of public testimony before their vote.
A majority of supervisors agreed with opponents that the massive project would increase the risk for wildfire in the area and the negative impact on Shasta County outweighed any economic benefits.
District 1 Supervisor Joe Chimenti, who chairs the board, said he loved the idea of good-paying jobs coming to the area and the economic development.
“But when I look at it from a micro perspective, what’s the greatest environmental danger to our community right now? It’s wildfire,” Chimenti said. “This is a high to severe fire danger area. Would it be easier to fight fire, which is inevitable, if these turbines are not there? And the answer is yes.”
What supervisors heard Tuesday was a downsized version of the wind project.
After being rejected by the Shasta County Planning Commission, ConnectGen reduced the number of wind turbines from 72 to 48, which cut the overall footprint of the project by more than 33%. The company also proposed to decrease the height of the turbines by 10%, from 679 feet to about 610 feet.
The project was proposed on leased timberland near the Hatchet Ridge wind farm and 6 miles west of Burney. Before the revision, it would have encompassed 4,464 acres.
District 5 Supervisor Les Baugh said the “white elephant” in the room for him was the height of the turbines.
“Is there any place in the city of Redding that you’re not going to see these darn things? And the answer is no,” Baugh said. “It’s impossible to mitigate 600 feet of tower.”
During his presentation, ConnectGen’s Henry Woltag told supervisors that the company acted on the feedback it received after the June 22 planning commission meeting.
“This is the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) process working,” he said. “All these refinements remain in the footprint of the original project that was assessed in the EIR (environmental impact report).”
Woltag said the $350 million project would be the largest investment in Shasta County since the construction of Shasta Dam.
“With this level of investment comes significant economic development and job creation,” he said. “Perhaps the most significant benefit is the over $50 million in property tax revenue that will be paid over the life of the project.”
He said that would equate to more than $23 million for Shasta County schools, over $6 million for the county’s general fund and over $3 million for the cities of Redding, Anderson and Shasta Lake.
ConnectGen also announced that it would enhance its community benefits plan by providing a combined $2.8 million to the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office, Montgomery Creek and Round Mountain Advisory Committee, the Pit River Tribe, Shasta Fire Safe Council and the Fall River and Western Shasta Resource Conservation districts.
Casting the lone dissenting vote, District 2 Supervisor Leonard Moty said the money ConnectGen pledged wasn’t as important as the jobs. He also believed that the project was an opportunity for Shasta County do its part to combat climate change.
“I think the real travesty is that we are going to turn those jobs away,” Moty said.
“I’m disappointed that we are missing an opportunity to do a good thing for our community and an even better thing for our climate,” he added.
Like they did at the June 22 Planning Commission meeting, opponents who spoke criticized the project for the potential fire hazard it would create, the negative impact on Intermountain communities and Native American cultural resources, and the environment.
Gill Wright, Region 2 vice president of the California Pilots Association, said the wind farm would be a no-fly zone for fixed-wing aircraft fighting fires. Other pilots who spoke in opposition agreed with him.
However, the environmental impact report, sourcing firefighting experts, said the wind turbines would present a challenge that would need to be addressed when fire incident managers plan air attacks. But the wind turbines would not create a no-fly zone or prevent aerial attacks from being planned in the case of a wildfire.
Wright disagreed, saying it was “disingenuous” at the June planning commission meeting to suggest helicopters could navigate around the wind turbines to fight fire.
“You got a thimble and you got a bucket. … What do you want to fight a fire?” Wright said, comparing the water-carrying capacity of a helicopter versus a DC-10 jumbo jet.
John Gable of Moose Camp, an association of cabins near the project site, said four of the largest fires in state history occurred since the June planning commission meeting. That includes the 963,309-acre Dixie Fire, the second largest fire in state history that was fully contained Tuesday after more than three months.
Beth Messick-Lattin, who founded Citizens in Opposition to the Fountain Wind Project, said the project has brought together opponents of all political persuasions.
“When this many diverse people come together” something must be wrong, she said.
Meanwhile, Shasta County Planning Commissioners Jim Chapin, Steve Kerns and Donn Walgamuth defended their decision in June to deny the project a use permit.
“I don’t believe that a wind project of this size belongs in a forested environment. It belongs on the ocean or the desert,” Chapin said. “As I’ve said before, this won’t be the last one.”
Michelle LaPena, a Pit River member and attorney representing the tribe, said “no amount of payoff that ConnectGen can offer would change our position.”
Several labor groups spoke in support of the project, noting that a project of this size might be a once-in-a-lifetime economic opportunity for Shasta County.
Ben Scott, of the Operating Engineers, said if the county rejects Fountain Wind, the company and jobs would go elsewhere.
“We either get people working here, bringing in the money and working in the communities or we get nothing,” Scott said.
But District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones questioned whether the jobs to build the wind farm would come from Shasta County or would ConnectGen bring in workers from other areas.
Woltag had said in June that ConnectGen has a labor agreement with the California building trades to help assure the construction jobs would be local.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding