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Bingham County Judge Stalls Wind Project

by Zach Hagadone
Idaho Business Review, August 21, 2009

An Aug. 13 decision in Bingham County court has delayed development of a 150-turbine wind farm in Wolverine Canyon near the Bingham-Bonneville county line.

Judge Richard St. Clair ruled that because of errors in its application, and some conflicts of interest, Ridgeline Energy would have to go back to the county planning and zoning board to re-apply for a special use permit if it wants to build the Goshen South wind farm.

"Although that isn't the decision we had hoped for it's the decision we received," said Goshen South project manager Randy Gardner. "Ridgeline is going to take a short period of time and reevaluate exactly what we're going to ask the Bingham County Planning and Zoning board and county commissioners to consider."

"There seem to be two issues that stuck out," he added. "One was the inclusion in our permit of BLM property and state property, and the other being that there were two board members who didn't excuse themselves from the proceedings due to conflicts of interest."

The conflicts came from one P&Z board member whose spouse represented a party with interest in the development, and another who owns property adjacent to the proposed development, Gardner said. He added those relationships had been addressed in the P&Z process, but "apparently the judge disagreed with that opinion."

According to KPVI News 6 in Pocatello, Judge St. Clair also took exception to the board's approval of a pre-development committee to green-light improvements on the 20,000 acre site, which includes federal and state-owned property.

Some landowners and residents, including Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot, opposed the wind farm on a number of grounds, including aesthetics, site planning and environmental impacts.

"First I want to be really clear we're not against wind mills, we just think we ought to be careful where we put them," said VanderSloot, whose holding company Natural Guardian Limited Partnership took out a series of full-page ads in the Idaho Falls Post Register challenging the project.

"This is a pristine, beautiful canyon, very unique, a lot of forest, a lot of rock formations, and we just think that there ought to be some attention paid to that," he said.

Natural Guardian Limited Partnership, which VanderSloot said he purchased about 20 years ago, owns or leases about 1,500 acres in Wolverine Canyon. He said the holding company purchased the land to protect it from development, and lacking a clear idea of exactly where Ridgeline plans to construct its turbines he'll continue to oppose the project.

"There aren't a lot of properties like that in either Bingham County or Bonneville County for that matter," he said, describing the area as a haven for campers, rock climbers, snowmobiling and hiking. "It would be like putting windmills into Yellowstone Park, you just wouldn't do it."

He said when Ridgeline comes back to the P&Z, he could see his way to supporting the project, provided no one in the canyon would be able the see the turbines.

"If none of them are going to be seen by people who are enjoying that area, I think that would go a long ways," he said.

Gardner said it could be between 60 and 90 days before Ridgeline is back before the board.

"We're going to look at all aspects of the decision. We're going to look at the economics for the county, the economics for ourselves," he said. "We're not going to limit our scope based upon a few opinions; we're going to look at the overall perception of the project."

Zach Hagadone
Bingham County Judge Stalls Wind Project
Idaho Business Review, August 21, 2009

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