Council approves Whistling Ridge wind farm with limits

October 8, 2011

The proposed Whistling Ridge wind power project slated to be sited in Skamania County on land owned by SDS Lumber and Broughton Lumber, and in view of Hood River, is one step further down the road on the path to construction, albeit with a potential reduction in turbines.

At the Oct. 6 Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council meeting held in Stevenson, a set of recommendations were finalized on the application for a $150 million 50-turbine wind farm near the city of White Salmon.

The council decision, including a recommendation to approve the project with some limitations and conditions, was scheduled to be officially released on the agency's website late Friday, Oct. 7, but attendees were provided a summary at the Oct. 6 meeting.

According to Nathan Baker, staff attorney for the Friends of the Gorge and meeting attendee, the council recommendations have placed a limit of 35 turbines on the project - primarily to mitigate "scenic" impacts.

With 426-foot towers slated to be sited atop several ridgelines, the wind turbines will be visible throughout the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Act territory, a significant point of controversy for the proposed facility.

"The council listed 15 of the 50 turbines as off-limits," said Baker. Those 15 lie in most view-sensitive areas affecting Underwood, White Salmon and Hood River. The specific restricted towers were those listed as A1 to A7 and C1 to C8 on the project proposal map.

"This doesn't eliminate the visual impact of the turbines for Hood River and elsewhere; it just reduces tower numbers on the front lines of site," said Baker.

"Secondary benefits," according to Baker, "are a reduction in view impacts and noise for Underwood residents since one set of the proposed turbines looming over their town will now be eliminated."

In an environmental impact study funded in part by SDS Lumber and referenced in the council's deliberations, the impact on the view-shed - deemed "low-to-moderate" - includes noted project visibility from points in White Salmon, Viento State Park, the Historic Columbia River Highway, I-84 in both directions and Hood River.

Opponents of the project, including the Friends of the Columbia Gorge, argue that the study under-represents those impacts and others, including wildlife harm and consequences of offensive noise.

The facility, if constructed, will produce 75 megawatts of electricity and is located about 7 miles west of White Salmon on privately held lands currently in commercial timber production.

"The council has indicated SDS may still produce up to 75 megawatts on the project, but with fewer turbines," said Baker. This could mean the remaining 35 turbines would have upsized blades and girth, while still keeping under the 426-foot height limit.

A Whistling Ridge Energy Company website lists the creation of eight to nine permanent jobs over a 20-year period of farm operations at 75 megawatts, along with total property tax revenues for the county of $731,000, as a result of the project.

This week a five-party request, led by the Audubon Society of Seattle, was sent in letter format to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bonneville Power Administration, urging a re-evaluation of the project's impact to endangered northern spotted owls.

In May of 2010, a spotted owl was confirmed in the area on Department of Natural Resources land adjacent to the site and falls under protections of the "Spotted Owl Special Emphasis Area" official designation.

"The confirmed owl information was never updated in the Final Environmental Impact Study's main text," said Shawn Cantrell, executive director of the Seattle Audubon Society. "It lies hidden in an appendix."

Bonneville Power Administration, who must ultimately grant access to power transmission lines on the project in order for it to proceed, is a federal agency obligated to act in accordance to the Federal Endangered Species Act regulations.

"The spotted owl concern is the most likely reason BPA would deny access to the project," said Baker.

"Also, two months ago, the USFWS updated their Spotted Owl Recovery Plan with different guidance on how to manage private lands in owl habitat. That also needs to be included in the re-evaluation," said Cantrell.

"The council's summary did not include any recommended changes based on wildlife impacts," said Baker, who noted that the proposed site of nine turbines would lie within two designated spotted owl habitat circles near Moss Creek and Mill Creek.

The project Final Environmental Impact Study, Final Adjudicative Order, Final Draft Site Certification Agreement and Final Draft Recommendation Order are the components of the review process which will be included in the council's ultimate recommendation to Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire.

Thursday's EFSEC recommendations and decision, once posted, will initiate a 20-day review period in which anyone, including SDS Lumber, may petition for reconsideration of the decision or recommendations.

After the reconsideration period, the public will have an additional 14 days to respond to those petitions.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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