Let’s not spoil Gorge’s gorgeous views
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, many thousands will continue to behold the scenic treasure that is the Columbia River Gorge … unless those viewpoints are cut off by houses or other forms of development.
One of the developments that is most troubling is Whistling Ridge Energy Project, described by the Columbian’s Kathie Durbin in an Aug. 29 story. SDS Lumber Co. is proposing the 75-megawatt development to be built on 1,152 acres of SDS timberland. The SDS project developer is Jason Spadaro. Some 50 wind turbines — each 426 feet high — are proposed. They would be located just outside the scenic area — protected land, seven miles north of White Salmon.
Some would be visible from land protected by the 1986 Columbia Gorge Scenic Act. The act restricts turbine development on scenic land, but not on land outside the boundaries of the act. Despite that provision, two federal agencies — the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service — are opposing the erection of wind turbines in areas that can be seen from the protected Gorge lands. The agencies have faced heavy criticism from Skamania County commissioners and developer Spadaro. In addition, U.S. Reps., Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, and Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, have chided the two federal agencies.
In May, Baird wrote a letter to Northwest regional forester Mary Wagner that criticized national scenic area manager Dan Harkenrider for comments recommending SDS eliminate turbine locations found to be visible from key viewpoints in the scenic area.
He asked Wagner to clarify the agency’s position. “Not only is this project outside of your agency’s jurisdiction, but your actions could have detrimental impacts on the project, with, as I see it, very minimal benefit,” Baird wrote. “If a breach of authority was committed, it is my hope you will consider retracting Harkenrider’s letter.”
But the agencies balked, noting that clean energy development should be done with consideration for the scenic values in the Gorge national act. “We are not retracting our statement,” said Forest Service scenic area spokeswoman Jennifer Kevil.
Spadaro worries that the federal agencies’ statements will give opponents a legal hook to challenge his project. Friends of the Columbia Gorge organization have stepped into the fray as well. The group believes scenic protection should be extended outside the area covered by the national scenic area act.
Nathan Baker, staff attorney for the Friends, estimates there are already 1,500 turbines in this forest of blades extending for 150 miles east from The Dalles. Baker asks, “Why build Whistling Ridge at all? There are plenty of non-controversial sites with owners ready to sell.”
A Bonneville Power Administration report indicates between 3,000 and 3,500 megawatts of wind power already are connected to the Bonneville grid. It predicts more than 6,000 megawatts of wind power will be connected to BPA by 2013. By 2016, that figure is predicted to rise to 10,000 megawatts. That means 5,000 turbines would be in use.
Friends said views from within the scenic area should be protected, regardless of whether a project is inside or outside the scenic area. The state decision on Whistling Ridge will be made after Gov. Chris Gregoire receives recommendations from the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. BPA is conducting the federal evaluation of the project. If the two disagree, the project will be scrubbed. Baker expects a decision a year from now.
With many areas of the Gorge sullied by the sight of whirling propellers, it’s time to restrict the proliferation of wind machines.
The Columbia River Gorge is one of the few remaining places in the nation where some of the Lewis and Clark landscape remains today as it existed more than two centuries ago.
Every year a little bit of that beauty is sliced off to allow man-made blights. This means we must witness the slow extinction of the grandeur of the Gorge.