Locals Weigh in on Proposal for Wind Farm in Umatila, Morrow Counties

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Morrow County farmer Wendy King offers comments on March 21 to members of the Energy Facility Siting Council at a public hearing in Hermiston on the Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility East that would operate in Umatilla and Morrow counties. (Photo by Berit Thorson/East Oregonian)

A few Morrow County residents gave their input Thursday, March 21, on an energy company’s proposal to expand a wind farm that it has yet to build.

The Energy Facility Siting Council heard the comments during a public hearing in Hermiston on NextEra Energy’s request to amend the site certificate for Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility East.

The wind farm would operate in Morrow and Umatilla counties, and NextEra seeks to increase the number of 500-foot-tall wind turbines from 66 to 107, which would boost the power generation from 200 megawatts to 300 megawatts, and expand the site boundary from 4,582 acres to 78,985 acres.

However, David Lawlor with NextEra Energy, stated the initial 4,582 acres are micrositing corridors, and that increase is more like 10,000 acres, to about 14,600 acres per micrositing corridor, so it’s not quite as substantial of an increase as it seems.

Around 30 people attended the meeting in person at the Hermiston Oxford Suites, and a few people offered testimony on parts of the proposal.

Voices in opposition

Wendy King, a farmer in Morrow County, asked the council “for consideration to limit negative impacts to our enjoyment of our property and livelihood,” which King said will occur if wind turbines are installed on Gleason Butte.

“We simply desire to continue farming,” she said. “The presence of wind turbines on our viewshed wrecks our enjoyment of our property with county-wide vistas that are pleasing to our working family.”

Sam Myers, King’s brother and another Morrow County resident, asked the council to consider not allowing turbines on Gleason Butte so it can stay a peak landmark in the area, though it does not have official landmark status.

“I’m also very concerned, in the expansion of this project,” he said, “that the expanse of some additional 50 miles of access roads present a weed problem and a fire hazard at the same time.”

Kochia weeds grow particularly well along the sides of the roads in the area and will pose a bigger maintenance challenge as more roads are added, he said. Kochia plants can grow to be 6 feet tall.

Because of this, Myers said, “the skeleton is so big, if a fire does move through there, it’ll exacerbate the length of the fire flame because there’s so much material to burn.”

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