Against a staff recommendation, the Shasta County Planning Commission late Tuesday night unanimously rejected the use permit for a controversial wind farm project planned for the Intermountain area just west of Burney.
Commissioners sided with opponents who said the impact of the Fountain Wind project on the environment, landscape and the potential long-term damage it would cause to the region’s economy outweighed the consequences. advantages of the huge wind farm.
The 5-0 vote capped a marathon meeting that lasted nearly 10 hours and ended just before 11 p.m. The unanimous vote was greeted with cheers from opponents who were still in the audience at Shasta College Theater.
Shortly after the vote, Henry Woltag, the director of the project, told Record Searchlight that the company would appeal the planning commission’s decision to the Shasta County Supervisory Board. The day and time of the call have not yet been determined.
“Not the right place”
The commissioners were particularly moved by members of the Pit River Tribe who said the wind farm would desecrate sacred tribal lands and cause further economic hardship for their community.
Commissioner Steven Kerns said he spoke to a friend of Pit River about their culture and how it would be affected. Kerns said the tops of the ridges where wind turbines would be built are sacred lands to Native Americans.
âThis is their Gettysburg,â Kerns said ahead of the 5-0 vote, asking the audience how they would feel if we decided to build a wind farm on this hallowed Civil War battlefield.
Commissioner Donn Walgamuth, a painting contractor who supports builders and development, said there are things that take precedence over jobs.
Walgamuth said he has an issue with people telling Native Americans what they can and cannot do on their lands, referring to the Redding Rancheria’s struggle to move their casino to Redding.
âBut when people from the outside come in and tell them that you have to accept something on your land, I think it’s wrong,â he said. “I don’t think this is the right project … and certainly not the right place.”
Patrick Wallner, who chairs the planning committee, called Tuesday’s meeting the most intense in his eight years on the committee.
âIt’s very difficult for me to support a project that doesn’t make a lot of sense,â Wallner said.
What the Pit River Tribe Said In Opposing The Wind Farm
The Pit River tribe was among several groups that made presentations opposing the wind farm.
Agnes Gonzalez, president of the Pit River Tribe, said the project would be detrimental to the mental health of its members and interfere with access to “sacred waters and streams”. The project site is close to the Pit River tribal lands.
âThis project would undermine the religious freedom and cultural practices of the tribe,â said Gonzalez, adding that the project site is in a place of refuge for the tribe. “Tribal artifacts have already been found near the construction site.”
Michelle LaPena, the lawyer representing the tribe, said that despite what some believe, property values ââin the area will decline as a result of the project and exacerbate the economic hardship for tribe members.
A tribal member said a project like Fountain Wind would never be built over a veterans cemetery or church.
Unions support the construction of a wind farm
Those who expressed support for the project included labor groups who said many of their Shasta County members were traveling out of town to find work, and that the Fountain Wind project would give them a chance to work and stay. at home.
Andrew Meredith of the California State Building and Construction Trades Council said the wind farm is the type of project “that can put hundreds of construction workers” to work “while earning a living wage.” He said his group had more than 3,100 members, including 300 apprentices, in Shasta County.
The Fountain Wind project is proposed on 4,464 acres of forest land approximately 6 miles west of Burney.
ConnectGen LLC wants to lease a property from a private landowner to build up to 71 wind turbines with a capacity to generate up to 216 megawatts of electricity, according to the county planning department. The electricity produced would be enough to power more than 86,000 California homes, according to the project’s website.
Woltag, the ConnectGen project manager for Fountain Wind, said the company has a working agreement with the California building trades to help ensure construction jobs are local. He added that once built, the $ 300 million Fountain Wind would provide 12 full-time jobs.
Should the project be approved this summer, Woltag told the planning commission that deforestation and tree grading at the site would begin next spring with a project completion date of late 2023.
The Fountain Wind project would eclipse the current Hatchet Ridge wind farm.
The 71 turbines could be up to 679 feet high, from base to tip of the blades. In comparison, the Shasta Dam is 602 feet high and the turbines at Hatchet Ridge near Burney are 418 feet high.
Raise concerns about forest fires
One of the main concerns of opponents who live in the area around the proposed project is how this will increase the risk of forest fires and make it more difficult to fight fires.
But ConnectGen and others who have spoken in favor of the project have refuted those arguments.
Woltag said the turbines will be fitted with fire extinguishing technology that will include smoke detectors that can trigger a forced shutdown of the turbines in the event of a fire.
Darin Quigley, who retired from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and works at the Northern California Fire Council, said the roads that will be created around the project will create fire breaks.
âMore roads means faster response time for firefighters,â Quigley said.
But Montgomery Creek resident Larry Johnson told commissioners their biggest concern should be taking thousands of acres of high-risk forest “and you’re canceling the fight against aerial fires.”
Before Johnson spoke, Jim Barnes of the Associated Aerial Firefighters said trying to navigate wind turbines while fighting a fire from the air was extremely difficult: “It is a losing proposition to try to fight a fire in a turbine field. ” His opinion was different from that given in the environmental impact report of the project.
David Benda covers business, development and everything else for the USA TODAY network in Redding. He also writes the weekly column “Buzz on the Street”. He is part of a team of dedicated journalists who investigate wrongdoing, cover the latest news and tell other stories about your community. Contact him on Twitter @DavidBenda_RS or by phone at 1-530-225-8219. To support and perpetuate this work, please subscribe today.