The city of Bingen has made it official: It supports the proposed Whistling Ridge Energy Project in eastern Skamania County.
On the evening of July 6, the Bingen City Council reached unanimous consensus to back the project, which is being proposed by Bingen-based SDS Lumber Co.
"Our letter is similar to one sent by Klickitat County," explained Bingen City Administrator Jan Brending. "We basically support wind energy, and we raise the issue of areas that are exempt from the National Scenic Area. Those areas should be exempt, period. If they start applying restrictions on things that are not in the Scenic Area, it will hamper economic development."
"SDS is very appreciative of the letter of support from the City of Bingen on Whistling Ridge Energy project," said Jason Spadaro, president, SDS Lumber Company. "The City of Bingen joins the City of White Salmon, Klickitat County, Skamania County, Port of Skamania, Skamania PUD, Klickitat PUD, Skamania EDC, Klickitat EDA, White Salmon Schools along with numerous businesses and individuals who have all indicated in one form or another their support for clean, renewable energy and the benefits this project can provide."
Spadaro noted, this support and the comments from the local community is very important in the EFSEC process as they carefully decide how to evaluate the proposal and use their authority to site energy facilities.
The proposed Whistling Ridge Energy Project would site approximately 50 wind turbines on hills near Underwood. The site is roughly seven miles northwest of White Salmon.
The project has drawn fire from those whose homes are close to where the turbines would go, as well as those who fear it would have a negative impact on the adjacent Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (NAS). The areas where the wind turbines would be sited is outside of the NSA boundaries, but would be visible from different locations within the Scenic Area.
"It is important that everyone understand that this project is located entirely outside the boundaries of the federally designated Scenic Area and is, therefore, exempt," Spadaro said. "When Congress passed the Scenic Area Act, it was an attempt at balancing the protection of scenic resources without overly restricting private lands or eliminating the opportunity for growth and development of local cities and counties.
He added The Whistling Ridge project is exactly the kind of clean, renewable, environmentally sound economic development that should be allowed near the Columbia Gorge. "It will provide taxes, jobs and benefits to the local communities, including White Salmon School District, with little impact."
Bingen's letter, addressed to the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council and to the Bonneville Power Administration, addressed the reasons for Bingen's support of the planned wind energy infrastructure.
"Wind energy projects are one way the state of Washington and the United States can help reduce the reliance on transitional, non-renewable energy sources," read the letter, which was signed by Mayor Betty Barnes. "The city of Bingen notes that the Whistling Ridge project is located outside of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, and is therefore not subject to the National Scenic Area Act ...We would not be able to realize our community and economic development objectives if proximity to the Scenic Area begins to restrain that development. The city believes that restrictions on properties located outside of the Scenic Area or that are exempt from the Scenic Area Act are inconsistent with the letter and intent of the National Scenic Area Act."
Barnes said she believed it was important for the city to take a stand.
"As an entity, it was something we felt it was worth writing, to share our feelings on this," Barnes explained. "Green energy and renewable energy is something we have to do, and we support it."
Brending said she believed opposition to the project is misplaced.
"Wind energy is important and everybody always support it -- until it's in your back yard," said Brending. "That's what a lot of this is about."
Spadaro agreed. "As we've previously indicated to the community, this project is not only important for SDS as a diversifying use of our forest lands, it is important for our Country and our future that we continue to develop clean energy where it is best suited and reduce our dependency on hydrocarbons," he said.
Brending was uncertain whether the letter would make a difference, but council members wanted to go on record to express their support.
"We have no idea what the impact of our letter will be -- that's up to the licensing agencies to figure out," Brending said.
The project EIS is still in the public comment period until July 19. EFSEC & BPA will then spend several months evaluating public comment.