A new source of natural energy may be coming to the Willard-Mill A area of eastern Skamania County.
Although the idea is still in an exploratory stage, it was recently announced that an as-yet undetermined energy company may partner with SDS Lumber Co. and Broughton Lumber Co. to place wind turbines on forest lands east of Willard and Mill A.
SDS President Jason Spadaro said the prospect is at a conceptual stage at this point.
"We held an Aug. 11 meeting in Mill A for people in Mill A and Willard," Spadaro said. "It was a courtesy, letting them know we're considering wind energy on our [SDS] lands and Broughton lands."
Johanna Roe, chair of the Mill A Community Action Committee, praised Spadaro for informing the residents of the potential project.
"It was a very informative meeting," Roe said. "Jason did a really good job of coming prepared with information about the project."
Roe said the meeting in August was set up specifically to discuss a possible wind energy project in the area.
"He [Spadaro] called in June, and wanted to bring this to the community," Roe explained. "Broughton and SDS have a longstanding relationship with the people in this valley, with the old mill and folks who worked in the mills. It comes out of respect."
According to Roe, nearly 40 people attended the event.
"That's a lot of people for a Saturday afternoon," Roe commented.
Spadaro took note of the controversy that has embroiled a wind energy project in Wasco County in Oregon, but made clear the one being considered near Willard is completely different.
"Our project is unlike the one near The Dalles. It's not as visible or as close to residences," Spadaro said. "And it's not likely to be a large project."
He also pointed out that, despite some erroneous rumors, the site would not be on Underwood Mountain, nor would it be located inside the Scenic Area.
Roe said the location of the proposed wind turbines would be a couple miles directly east of the communities of Willard and Mill A. The towers would be directly south of the natural gas pipeline that runs through the area.
According to Roe, citizens raised several concerns during the Aug. 11 meeting, including impacts on raptors, noise, and the possibility of light pollution.
"With the tower collapsing [east of Wasco, Ore., on Aug. 25], that's going to be another concern, the structural integrity of these things," Roe said.
Sally Newell, an Underwood resident who attended the meeting, said she does not believe there is cause for concern.
"I don't see any downside on this," Newell said. "Power has to come from somewhere, and I'd just as soon it didn't come from Condit Dam. When you look at all the options -- coal-fired, natural gas fired, or dams -- everything has a downside. I don't really object to this idea."
Newell added that she thought Spadaro's presentation was well received by those in attendance.
"It was real cordial, and I did not sense any hostility," Newell said. "The most controversial aspect is the lights. These towers would be on a ridgetop, so for aviation safety they would have to have red strobe lights on every tower."
Spadaro stressed that no decision has been made about the project.
"Several permits would be required from Skamania County, but nothing has been applied for," he said. "There is no certainty to the proposal, but we are considering it. If we do go forward, there will be more meetings in the local communities with all the facts and information. We'll meet with Underwood and White Salmon people as well."
Roe described herself as "pretty neutral" on the wind energy proposal.
"Hopefully, there would be financial benefits for our school, and it would have the potential for boosting our fire services too," she said.
Roe advised local residents to attend any future meetings and offer their views if there is a decision to move forward with a wind energy project.
"It's real important that people stay informed and attend meetings," she said. "Ask questions when the opportunity comes up."