After a month-long public hearing, Tamastslikt Cultural Institute can more forward with plans to build a wind turbine on its property.

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation’s Natural Resources Commission gave conditional approval for the turbine Tuesday.

The ownership of the turbine will be a first for CTUIR.

“I would hope that having done our homework, (the Natural Resources Commission) should be in the position to turn down those who haven’t done the research needed,” said Tamastslikt director Bobbie Conner.

Conner said it will be months before the institute is ready to begin construction on the turbine.

For full approval, Tamastslikt must apply for a development permit with the CTUIR planning department, provide blueprints of the turbine, written proof of compliance with CTUIR code and replant any native grasses destroyed during construction.

Also, the site will have to be restored to its pre-construction condition should the turbine stop being used.

Conner added that, in addition to the conditions set by the Tribes, Tamastslikt will conduct more bird and bat impact studies before beginning the project.

Tribal member Rob Burnside gave the commission a petition with the signatures of 21 tribal members who opposed the turbine. He said it could be a costly venture for the Tribes, citing multiple examples of expensive repairs and unmet expectations in other turbines.

“This is bringing something in, to me, that is unproven, versus something that is proven like hydropower or nuclear or coal,” Burnside said.

Burnside, who is the Umatilla tribal fire chief, questioned the noise levels and that the turbine could throw ice and snow during winter storms. He said the turbine’s noise level could reach past 90 dB, much higher than the maximum 60 dB allowance. Tamastslikt’s studies showed noise reaching no higher than 54 dB.

The 170-foot monopole turbine costs nearly $500,000 to build. Tamastslikt will receive a Blue Sky Fund grant and an Energy Trust of Oregon rebate that will cover the bulk of its costs.

With expected operating and maintenance costs, Conner said the wind energy will save Tamastslikt about $480,000 in energy bills over the next 30 years.

At about 94,000 kilowatts per year, the turbine will provide about a quarter of the institute’s electricity.

In its quest to become energy neutral, Tamastslikt reduced its electricity usage by 63 percent and gas by 76 percent in the last decade before turning to renewable energy options.

The institute wants to also build a solar-covered carport, but has not been able to get funding for the $1 million project.

“We’ve taken a decade to even get to this point of looking at renewable energy options,” Conner said. “In our case to be energy neutral, both wind and solar are necessary.”

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Contact Natalie Wheeler at nwheeler@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.

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