TWIN FALLS – Citing feedback from the community that was primarily opposed to a proposed wind farm near Hollister, the Board of County Commissioners on Thursday passed a resolution stating they do not support the Salmon Falls Wind Project.
The nonbinding resolution states that the board “believes this project would disturb the rural character of Twin Falls County.”
Commissioner Jack Johnson said the resolution is not bound by law and also added that the measure doesn’t mean commissioners wouldn’t change their minds once more information becomes available.
“The vast majority of folks that we’ve either spoken to or that have reached out to us through email, phone, text – you name it – are not proponents of this project,” Johnson said. “And we have a lot of folks in our community that are pushing us to take some kind of a position on this early on.”
Magic Valley Energy and LS Power have applied for a permit to place as many as 280 wind turbines standing up to 740 feet tall on Bureau of Land Management ground near Hollister. The process leading to the BLM issuing a determination on the Salmon Falls Wind Project could take up to two years. If approved, Magic Valley Energy said the wind farm could become operational by 2026.
It is the second wind project Magic Valley Energy has proposed for the area, following the Lava Ridge Wind Project in Lincoln, Jerome and Minidoka counties.
The BLM is accepting public comments on the project.
Before voting to approve the resolution, Commissioner Don Hall said that the board would remain open to the possibilities that the environmental impact statement could address concerns about the project regarding sound pollution, visual intrusion, effects on wildlife, groundwater, and grazing rights.
“I think we’ve been very measured, and we’ve looked at this from every angle that we can, and frankly I don’t personally need to wait for an environmental impact study to have an opinion about this,” Hall said.
Hall added that while the commissioners have influence but no authority over public lands.
“We are going to exercise our influence with this resolution to let them know that we have concerns and our community has spoken to us about those concerns,” Hall said.
Commissioner Reinke spoke of concerns he had that the resource management plan needs to be updated, the last time it was updated was 1986. The resource management plan is similar to the comprehensive plan the county creates, he said.
“We have a good sense of where we are this morning,” Reinke said. “Our minds are open for us to be able to proceed forward, but I think this is a statement that needs to be made.”
The discussion in the commissioner’s conference room was heard by a full audience, many of which applauded the board’s vote to oppose the project.
Jon McGregor was one of the more than 30 people present for the resolution. McGregor and his family have farmed land near Hollister for three generations. Preliminary design plans for the wind project would place turbines within a mile of his property, where he farms beans, wheat, peas and alfalfa.
“I’m glad to hear it,” McGregor said. “I think they listened to us and I am not a proponent of this whatsoever. Our ground borders where they are going to put them, the closest one will be under a mile and I don’t need that.”
McGregor is part of a citizens’ group that recently delivered more than 900 signatures – collected in just four days – against the project.
“For years they said, ‘Idaho’s too beautiful to litter,’” McGregor said. “What’s not littered by wind turbines?”
Magic Valley Energy has estimated the construction of Salmon Falls Wind Project would create 350 jobs and $46 million in tax revenue. The project would generate $2.3 million in tax revenue once operational. The company said $1.9 million of those taxes would go to the county for roads, schools, and emergency response agencies.
Project director Luke Papez responded to the commissioners’ resolution with a statement, saying public feedback is important at every step of the lengthy permitting process.
“While it’s necessary for leaders to listen to constituents’ input, it is also vital to allow for thorough research to provide data,” Papez said in the statement. “We are committed to a thorough and thoughtful approach to bringing the Lava Ridge and Salmon Falls Wind Projects to Southern Idaho, working closely with the county Commissioners to ensure they have accurate and transparent information as the Lava Ridge and Salmon Falls Wind Project studies progress.”
Hollister Mayor Robyn Grover would like to see the environmental impact study completed before any hard sound decisions are made.
“I have definitely got mixed feelings, and I’ve tried to take one side or another and just go with it, and I just can’t. There’s so many pros, and so many cons,” Grover said. “My heart is split down the middle.”
The project would generate substantial revenue for small rural communities such as Hollister, something Grover said could benefit the town.
“I would love to see what it would bring to Hollister – all the revenue, the taxes – how it could benefit the school and our community,” she said. “I think that could be a great thing. “And on the other hand, it’s our way of life out here, taking away from its uniqueness, the environment.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding