Even before Monday evening's public hearing in Goldendale over the proposed Klickitat County Energy Overlay Zone (EOZ), concerns over what the zoning changes could bring were boiling over.
Mike Wellman, a White Salmon resident who has worked as an engineering consultant for approximately 30 years -- including time with the cities of Bingen, White Salmon, Klickitat County, and the Klickitat Public Utility District -- expressed serious reservations about including gas-fired plants in the proposal.
Last Friday, Wellman said the public needs to become aware of what the zoning changes could mean for local residents. He pointed out that allowing gas-fired plants in the energy overlay could bring a plant on the scale of Calpine -- a massive, 248-megawatt natural gas-fired facility recently completed in Goldendale -- to Bingen or White Salmon.
"No one understands the magnitude of these plants," Wellman said. "My God, we're going to live with these things for how many years?"
A map prepared by Kennedy/Jenks Consultants, the firm hired by Klickitat County, showed the entire Bingen-White Salmon area, Klickitat, and the Dallesport-Murdock area as among the areas that meet the technical requirements for siting gas-fired plants.
Wellman blasted the idea of allowing more gas-fired plants into the county.
"Why are the County Commissioners doing something that will deteriorate the county?" he questioned. "Most people don't have a clue. There is a lot of nasty gas from these plants. When they run the one in Goldendale, a yellow haze settles over the town. I've never seen anything close to this level of modification of our lifestyle. It is so absurd."
Wellman said the commissioners need to realize that many people are upset about the impact of fossil fuel plants on public health, as well as the quality of life in the region.
"I haven't found anybody who wants a gas plant here," Wellman said. "No one is overjoyed with the idea of a gas-fired plant in Bingen or White Salmon, and they literally didn't even exempt the neighborhoods. I'm very disappointed with the County Commissioners. We need people who actually listen to their constituents. One thing we have to offer here is that it's a beautiful scenic area. Why are they pushing this?"
Klickitat County Commissioner Don Struck said the county was hoping to streamline the permitting process on a variety of energy facilities, including wind power, solar, and bio-mass, along with gas-fired plants.
One advantage of the EOZ is to allow the county the opportunity to increase its tax base. Job gains are another possible benefit.
"It's a marketing tool," Struck explained. "But it's not a done deal in my mind. I think the whole scope has changed significantly based on written testimony. The maps are significantly different in response to written comments, and some changes I requested personally."
He added that the county is in no rush to make a final decision on the proposed EOZ.
"I don't see any sense in hurrying this thing," Struck said. "We don't want to limit the ability of citizen to read a document and testify on it. That's ludicrous. If this takes until the middle of next year, that's fine. I want to give people as much time as they need. The FEIS is not an easy document to read. It's complicated."
He added that the County Commissioners will hold a public hearing, probably in White Salmon, sometime in December to take further testimony from citizens.
The County Commissioners can adopt, modify, or reject the proposed EOZ.
Struck said the commissioners would take the recommendation of the Planning Commission into consideration, "plus whatever public testimony we get," he added.
Struck acknowledged that the county has spent a lot of money on developing the EOZ, but he does not believe the expenditure means the commissioners will necessarily OK the plan as a result.
"A ballpark figure, we've spent upwards of half a million dollars. It's in that neighborhood," he said. "It would not be popular if we wasted all that money, but there is no sense of urgency to approve this."
Dawn Stover, a Snowden resident and opponent of the EOZ, urged the city councils of White Salmon and Bingen to consider the impacts of what the county is considering.
"This would have a big impact on Bingen and White Salmon," Stover said. "Look at the impacts of what a big Calpine plant in White Salmon would do to the area. These plants put out formaldehyde and ammonia, and our kids would be breathing that. It's a big deal, but most people don't realize that's what they are proposing."
Wellman added that the plants would sap water supply.
"One plant can burn 260 million gallons of water a year," he said.
Wellman contended that the renewable energy projects in the proposed EOZ, such as wind power, should not be lumped in with fossil fuel projects.
Wellman criticized Dana Peck, director of the county's Economic Development Department, for his role in planning for the EOZ.
"Dana Peck is pushing this agenda on the entire county," Wellman said.
"That's a pretty unfair characterization of what the process entails," Peck responded. "The EOZ is a process that allows for more public input on facility siting decisions, and I do encourage that process to be put into place."
Peck defended the plan as a progressive approach to siting energy facilities.
"This proposal puts the public at the start of the siting process instead of responding to what developers outside the area come up with," Peck explained. "The conditional use permit process is reactive. The EOZ gives the public more of a say in advance. It's a move toward pre-planning."
Peck pointed out that the Washington Department of Ecology will continue to oversee the standards for constructing gas-fired plants.
"Anybody who wants to build a gas plant falls under Department of Ecology air quality regulations," Peck explained. "If they can't meet those conditions, they won't be building in Klickitat County."
Wellman disagreed with Peck's assessment.
"We'll be breathing these things," Wellman said. "And the state's ability to review and protect air quality is pretty minimal."
According to Peck, the ongoing public input process regarding the EOZ is designed to refine the final legislation.
"The Planning Commission and County Commission elements of this process are where the changes get made," Peck said. "Nothing at this point is final and can't be altered."
Peck pointed out that the Planning Department would accept written or oral testimony regarding the proposed EOZ through the Planning Commission's Nov. 15 meeting.
"I was encouraged by the Sept. 20 meeting," Peck added. "People on both sides of this project are really engaged, and it will be a better process for that."