Group tilts against county in wind wars

<p>A group of concerned citizens are opposed to the construction of a new wind project north of Helix.</p>

A group opposed to siting a wind farm near Helix wants the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners to relinquish its role as the power facility’s advisory group.

Cindy Severe, with the backing of about 20 other Helix residents, brought the request Wednesday to the commissioners’ meeting at the Umatilla County Courthouse, Pendleton.

For most of an hour Severe argued county commissioners have ignored residents’ concerns about public safety regarding the Helix Wind Power Facility, a 201-megawatt wind farm Iberdrola Renewables proposed to build north of the small wheat farming community.

“This project will cause more damage to the resources and the community than any benefit it will produce,” Severe contended.

She cited instances of giant wind turbines catching fire at Iberdrola sites in the Midwest. Local firefighters would be helpless to combat a blaze 400 feet in the sky that had the potential to ignite grass fires, she said. Moreover, she claimed, Iberdrola places all responsibility of dealing with a turbine fire on local land owners, per contract language.

Severe also said Iberdrola is facing a lawsuit for violating noise standards at a wind farm in New York. She complained about increased noise if the company went ahead with building as many as 134 more turbines.

Severe asserted the county board, as the special advisory group to the Helix Wind Power Facility, has ignored Iberdrola’s recent “troubling track record” and should hand off the advisory role to the county’s planning commission.

To do so the board of commissioners would have to ask the Oregon Department of Energy and the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council to reassign the planning commissioner as the advisory group. As Commissioner Dennis Doherty pointed out, the county doesn’t have the jurisdiction to direct who will handle the role.

Severe said a suggestion from the board of commissioners to the state would go further than a request from a typical citizen.

And she asked commissioners to direct the Department of Energy to amend Iberdrola’s plan to include a 2012 county ordinance requiring a two-mile residential setback for wind energy facilities. The state citing council amended the plan before, she said, and might do it again.

Board Chairman Larry Givens said he, Doherty and fellow Commissioner Bill Elfering would “take this under advisement” with county counsel and talk to state agencies about the request.

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Contact Phil Wright at pwright@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0833.

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