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Whistling Ridge decision contested

April 7, 2012

In early March, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire approved the proposed Whistling Ridge wind power project to be sited near White Salmon on land owned by SDS Lumber and Broughton Lumber, paving the way for 35 turbines standing more than 400 feet tall.

On April 5, the nonprofit groups Friends of the Columbia Gorge and Save Our Scenic Area filed a petition for judicial review in the Thurston County Superior Court, challenging Gregoire's approval.

The petition for review lists 32 claims, focusing on zoning and forest practices violations as well as wildlife, scenic, noise and transportation impacts.

The petition asks the Thurston County Superior Court to decide the claims, rather than certifying the case for direct review by the Washington Supreme Court.

A primary focus of the FCG and SOSA petition asserts that the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, who produced the ruling on the project which Gregoire signed off on, erred in accepting claims of project compatibility with existing the Skamania County comprehensive plan and zoning laws.

According to FCG staff attorney Nathan Baker, "In 2009, Skamania County abandoned efforts to rezone the project site for wind energy development. Because Skamania County never finished its rezoning for this project, the project is prohibited under the County's rules."

Baker went on to assert that the EFSEC in its recommendation to Gregoire "failed to acknowledge these violations, thus making the governor's decision vulnerable on appeal."

Gregoire had signed off on the EFSEC final order which paved the way for 35 turbines - 15 fewer than originally proposed by Whistling Ridge.

If constructed, the facility would be sited about 7 miles west of White Salmon with turbines in view of Hood River, on privately held lands currently in commercial timber production.

Following notice of the turbine reduction, SDS President Jason Spadaro of Whistling Ridge LLC told Ted Sickinger of The Oregonian that the project was not currently financially viable.

The existing site certificate however, will remain valid for 10 years. With potential changes in the future economy, financial viability may return for the project in the future.

"This project, even scaled back to 35 turbines, is not worth sacrificing the unique scenic beauty and wildlife of the Columbia River Gorge," said Kevin Gorman, executive director for Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

"Friends of the Columbia Gorge supports responsible development of renewable energy sources, but the Whistling Ridge proposal is not responsible," said Gorman.

The governor's approved EFSEC ruling reduced turbine numbers primarily to mitigate visual impacts in sensitive scenic areas within the Gorge. Those 15 were described as "prominently visible" and "intrusive."

In its previously submitted petition, Whistling Ridge LLC had stated that elimination of the 15 denied turbines "kills the project."

If the project were to be constructed, the remaining proposed 426-foot towers would be sited atop several ridgelines visible throughout the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Act territory.

In a study submitted with the Whistling Ridge application, turbine visibility was noted from White Salmon, Viento State Park, the Historic Columbia River Highway, I-84 in both directions and Hood River.

"Icons of the Northwest, like the Columbia River Gorge, Mount Rainier and the Olympic Mountains, should be off-limits to large-scale energy development," said Gorman. "We can combat global warming without having to sacrifice our most special places and our core values."

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