By SAM LOWRY
Gorge News Report
Those awaiting the final environmental impact statement (EIS) for Klickitat County's proposed Energy Overlay Zone (EOZ) can expect to see less land available for power plants, according to Dana Peck, director of the county's Economic Development Department.
"The public comments were substantive," Peck said. "We are developing a new alternative that would focus on reduced areas for combustion turbine development."
The county has hired a new firm, Anchor Environment of Seattle, to prepare the final EIS draft.
"Those who've been working on it are too close to it," explained Peck. "We need an editor with strong SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) and EIS background; a completely fresh eye."
Anchor was retained in favor of Kennedy-Jenks Engineers, which did the draft EIS that was released last summer.
Peck pointed out that Anchor's principal task was to structure the response to the public's comments.
"They're working through the documents," Peck added. "It could be mid-December."
Dawn Stover, a Snowden resident and a citizen who has followed the EOZ development from its early stages, has voiced and written of her strong concerns about the energy zone plan.
"I'm not sure what to expect when the final EIS is released," Stover said. "I certainly hope the final EIS is dramatically different from the draft."
Stover explained that her biggest disappointment with the draft EIS was the "the county was not responsive to the public input that was made early on." She recalled that comments made at the time of an initial scoping hearing should have been addressed in the draft EIS. But Stover said they were not. Also, communities were never asked whether they wanted to opt out of being included in the EOZ, despite assurances that they would have that option.
Peck addressed several other issues that have been contentious.
"As I have restated constantly, all environmental reviews and all permits still have to be obtained," Peck said, referring to the siting of energy facilities.
According to Peck, the only thing that changes with the EOZ is the conditional use permit, which will no longer be needed because the conditions will be covered by the EOZ itself.
Asked about public concerns that hearings will not take place for facility siting, Peck said that was inaccurate.
"It's simply not true," he said. "And there are opportunities for appeal every inch of the way."
Stover said she'd heard that the county was considering holding legislative hearings to consider zoning ordinance provisions that would implement the EOZ -- before the final EIS is released.
Peck said that was mentioned in one meeting and that it would be an option, and it would be legal, but legal counsel strongly advised against it and it was never directly considered.
"There will be no start to legislative hearings until the final EIS is done. That is, at least until Jan. 8," Peck explained.
Once the final EIS is released, possibly in December, the appropriate action for any citizen who wants to challenge its adequacy will be to file an administrative appeal.
The deadline for doing so will be 21 days from the date the final EIS is released. The appeal will be heard by the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners.