Another voice: Reducing Whistling Ridge size hurts economy

October 19, 2011

I moved to Stevenson, Wash., in 1992 after retiring from the United States Forest Service in 1990. My wife and I have established a delicatessen and also an art gallery since moving here.

I have been president of the Skamania County Chamber of Commerce and have been actively promoting Skamania County as an excellent area in which to live and work.

I presently am on the Skamania County Economic Development Council and have been since 1993, have been a board member of the South Resource Advisory Committee of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest since its beginning and am a member of the Mount Adams Collaborative Group of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, all groups which are concerned with the implementation of projects that enhance the economic vitality of Skamania County.

I am also very concerned about the recent decision pertaining to the Whistling Ridge Wind Farm proposal. My thoughts follow:

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area basically has been expanded, at least visually, by the action taken recently by the Washington Energy Facility Siting Council when they recommended that Gov. Chris Gregoire approve, with reservations, the wind farm in eastern Skamania County. But … how will the governor react to their recommendation?

Hopefully she will look at the facts, which show that with almost 17 percent of the wind turbines being eliminated, it could very possibly make the wind farm a non-viable project. If that happens, do you realize that, once again, we are being held hostage and told how we are to live in our backyard? A backyard that has suffered far too long a time in part because of outside-the-Gorge influences?

The governor should realize that our county, like everyone else in the country, has suffered for more than a decade under very poor economic times, unemployment that is far too high; while available federal and state funds are being reduced with which we use to operate our county.

The Skamania County Commissioners have sent messages out to their staff that next year's budget will be cut from 35-50 percent, resulting in people losing their jobs, some services being greatly reduced or eliminated while other service fees are being raised; again, hard on folks with fixed incomes. Hopefully Gov. Gregoire will weigh these and other facts and then decide to allow the project to go forward.

Our Skamania County Economic Development Council and Skamania County Chamber of Commerce have been recognized as agencies that have successfully recruited and persuaded new businesses to come to our area for the same reasons we like living here. We welcome those businesses for the fact that we need the jobs they bring as well as the tax revenue they can provide the county.

There are also some folks who spend a lot of time putting up obstacles to many of the activities that are planned within the Gorge. Most of these people do not live in the Gorge and spend their time slowing down the progress we are trying to accomplish.

Gov. Gregoire should realize that more than half of the turbines to be eliminated could be seen from Interstate 84 for a very short time, maybe five minutes, as a vehicle traverses in a westerly direction at the speed limit of 65 mph. These turbines are in the background with the towns of White Salmon and Underwood in the foreground drawing the traveler's view to those areas.

If this project does not proceed, Skamania County will lose upwards of nine permanent jobs that come with the completed project plus annual tax revenues of approximately $800,000. Just these two items would go a long way in helping the county meet their obligations to county residents.

The governor should also be aware that the Whistling Ridge Wind Farm is on private land located outside the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area boundary. Congress said the Scenic Area Act rules would not be imposed on the area adjacent to the Scenic Area. Why, then, is this being used to stop this viable project, Governor?

If the project fails, and remembering that most people know there is no free lunch, then I suggest that the Friends of the Gorge and the other opponents who truly want a clear viewshed of the area should write a check to cover the tax revenue Skamania County would have received if the project had gone forward.

Some 25 years ago there was an idea that culminated in President Reagan taking our Gorge lifestyle away from us with a stroke of a pen. Wouldn't it be something if some future president, with a stroke of the pen, gave us back the Gorge lifestyle we appreciate?

It could happen if you would work to make it happen. I dare you to help.

David L'Hommedieu lives in Stevenson, Wash.

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