Advocacy groups challenge wind farm approval

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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Two advocacy groups this week filed a legal challenge against the Whistling Ridge Energy Project, hoping to block the Skamania County wind farm approved by Gov. Chris Gregoire last month.

The appeal, filed Wednesday in Thurston County Superior Court, was not unexpected. Friends of the Columbia River Gorge — which filed the challenge along with Save Our Scenic Area — had indicated it would likely fight the Whistling Ridge project shortly after it was approved. Opponents have said the wind farm would pose too great an impact to wildlife and natural areas, and harm scenic views from the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Despite last month’s approval, project developer Whistling Ridge Energy LLC has said the wind farm won’t go forward anytime soon. That’s because Gregoire’s decision also upheld an earlier recommendation to scale it back from 50 turbines to 35. Whistling Ridge President Jason Spadaro has said a downsized version of the project won’t be economically viable and can’t proceed.

This week’s appeal only adds to the project’s uncertainty.

SDS Lumber Co. and Broughton Lumber Co. first proposed the $150 million project in 2008. The wind farm would be located in Skamania County just north of the Gorge scenic area boundary, outside of White Salmon.