Decision coming Wednesday on Horizon Wind Energy?s wind farm

After a lengthy public hearing, the Union County Board of Commissioners is set to decide whether to ask the public for its opinion on Horizon Wind Energy’s plan to build a 300-megawatt wind farm near Union.

During its regular session Wednesday, the board will consider passing a resolution that calls for an advisory vote. The resolution to be considered acknowledges Horizon’s application is of “considerable public interest,” and calls for the board to place the question on the Nov. 2 ballot.

As for ballot wording, board Chairman Mark Davidson said all three options advanced during the hearing this month are on the table.

“We could consider Draft A, B or C. I don’t think anything’s set in stone yet,” he said.

Horizon, which opened the Elkhorn Valley Wind Farm near Telocaset in 2007, has applied to the state energy department to build Antelope Ridge Wind Farm on private property in the area of Craig Mountain.

The state and not Union County is the deciding authority, but wind farm opponents have urged the county board to take a position against Horizon’s plans.

The opponents, led by Friends of the Grande Ronde Valley, have been pushing for an advisory vote, even though the county has no authority in a siting decision, and even though the state’s Energy Facility Siting Council is required to base its decision on objective standards and not public opinion.

The county board opened a public hearing on a potential advisory vote Aug. 4 and has continued it through the month. The board must make a decision Wednesday in order to meet the filing deadline.

Much of the debate has centered on ballot wording and whether the board itself should adopt some formal position.

Ahead of the hearing, the board distributed copies of two drafts of a ballot question. The question read the same on both drafts: “Shall the Union County Board of Commissioners support the Antelope Ridge Wind Farm Application?”

The drafts differed, however, in the accompanying explanations.

One draft said a “yes” vote would result in the board submitting a formal position supporting the application, and a “no” vote would result in the county opposing it.

Another draft said a “yes” vote would result in the commissioners taking up a position of support; it did not say the board would submit a statement of opposition in the event of a “no” vote.

But in the hearing’s second session Aug. 11, Brandon Eyre, the county’s legal counsel, rendered the opinion that it is inappropriate for the board to take a position in a matter it has no authority over. He argued for a ballot question that shifts focus to the desires of the citizens on the county.

Eyre suggested re-wording the ballot question to read, “Do the citizens of Union County support the Antelope Ridge Wind Farm Application currently before the state Department of Energy?”

The board finished taking oral testimony on the advisory vote last Wednesday, though it left the record open for written comments. The board must make a decision during the upcoming regular session in order to meet the Sept. 2 filing deadline.

In other business Wednesday, the board will consider accepting a grant offer of money for runway improvements at the Union County Airport.

The county applied for the grant from the Federal Aviation Administration in February. Maximum obligation of the grant is $2.3 million.

Grant acceptance is one of several items the board will consider under administrative matters.

By Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer,