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Sevenmile Wind Project Dies

by Rodger Nichols
The Dalles Chronicle, January 23, 2009

First Wind letter withdraws application

A controversial proposal to site wind turbines on Sevenmile Hill near The Dalles has been cancelled.

A letter from Massachusetts-based applicant First Wind dated Jan. 20 formally withdrew the company's application.

Originally filed under the name UPC wind on April 11, 2007, the proposal would have placed 40 wind turbines, with blades that reached 390 feet at their apex, along a seven-mile footprint on the ridge west of The Dalles.

"We're dancing in the street," said attorney Mark Womble, a Sevenmile resident who was part of fierce opposition to the plan. "We're excited. We're very happy."

That joy was echoed by Linda Casady, another resident. "That's very, very good news," she said. "There are a lot of reasons that this is not a good place for such a facility: wildlife, threats to health, dynamics with people living here and the scenic aspect to it. Whether or not the [National Scenic Area] is involved, we didn't move up here to live into an industrial zone."

She and other neighbors fought the project, most memorably at a meeting of the Energy Facilities Siting Council in The Dalles on July 26, 2007.

Of the 35 people who spoke about the proposed Cascade Wind project, at that meeting, 31 expressed their disapproval in various degrees of firmness.

The council will meet again in The Dalles Friday morning at 9:30 at the Discovery Center for the first time since that 2007 meeting. This time around, they'll be briefed by Department of Energy staffers on the withdrawal of the application.

"That pretty much closes the book," said Department of Energy spokesman Louis Torres about the withdrawal letter. "It's not under consideration any more."

Torres did say the company could refile or they could reapply for a site certificate, or someone else could, but the DOE was not aware of any plans in that direction. "The Cascade Wind project was probably the most contentious or controversial project that was out there for quite a long time," Torres added.

"It was really the first time we've had kind of a clash because of the proximity to the Scenic Area as well as proximity to residences there. That automatically raised the volume quite a bit. Fortunately, most of the wind projects are sited typically in more remote areas so they tend not to be so controversial."

Torres said the department will be sending written notice to adjacent property owners and other people who commented on the project, telling them that it's cancelled.

A press release is planned for Friday, Torres said, which will read in part, "It received significant public attention because of its proximity to residences and the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area. It was also located in an area with complex terrain that provided challenging road and wildlife habitat issues. During the public process, meetings were well-attended and the department received hundreds of public comments."

Wasco County Judge Dan Ericksen took a wider view of the outcome.

"I think it was one of those darned if you do, darned if you don't kind of projects," he said. "They had a lot of obstacles to overcome and they would have had a lot of resentment and ill will from residents who live up in that area, so from that standpoint, it's probably a good thing. From an economic development standpoint, and local jobs and local revenues, probably not so good."

Sevenmile resident Scott Hege had this thought: "The thing that struck me from the beginning is that people live in areas like this because they are looking for solitude, and that kind of development really diminishes what people try to get out there."

Mark Womble said he wanted to express his profound gratitude "for all of the neighbors in the neighborhood and the scenic area supporters and the Friends of the Gorge, wildlife activists and everybody else who all came together for the common statement that this was not the right place. It was a real neighborhood effort I'm just really grateful to all my neighbors."

Rodger Nichols
Sevenmile Wind Project Dies
The Dalles Chronicle, January 23, 2009

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