Visible from the valley

By Beth Stewart November 23, 2009 02:25 pm

Bravo to Joe Davis, Dennis Wilkinson and other residents of Union County for voicing their concerns about the proposed Antelope Ridge Wind Farm.

Wake up, Union County! Horizon Wind is proposing to erect up to 182 windmills atop Craig Mountain. That’s three times the number of turbines that now dot the once pristine landscape near Telocaset.

The new windmills, according to Project Manager Valerie Franklin, would tower at least 365 feet into the air, some over 500 feet. That is higher than a football field is long — twice the height of those in Telocaset. That means no matter how hard Horizon Wind tries otherwise, the windmills will be both visible and offensive from just about anywhere in the Grande Ronde Valley.

Apparently the FAA requires that every third or fourth windmill be equipped with a flashing red light. That means you will see the windmills in the dark of night as well.

We were naive when the Elkhorn project went in. The Telocaset wind farm was a novelty for about 90 days. It may have been a windfall for the city of Union, some contractors and a handful of landowners, but it is now a constant reminder how property values and aesthetic values have suffered in the name of economic development.

I am not opposed to wind energy or other renewal energy sources. I am opposed to staring at the turbines day after day. I am also opposed to endangering the thousands of raptors, waterfowl and songbirds that find respite at Ladd Marsh on their way to and from wintering grounds. The proposed wind farm would be perched above Ladd Marsh. The potential harm to birds and other wildlife by turbines is real, not imagined.

I live in Union and drive back and forth to La Grande every day, sometimes twice a day. I have been eyeing the tall metal poles measuring wind speed on the top of Craig Mountain with great consternation. The thought of seeing endless windmills on the horizon chills me to the bone.

Have you driven to Portland lately? Do you want the Grande Ronde Valley to look like Arlington? You can’t miss the countless wind turbines that now line the bluffs of the Columbia River Gorge. In fact, you can’t make that drive without passing at least one propeller blade strapped to a flatbed headed for the next unsuspecting community.

Antelope Ridge isn’t the only threat. Those same metal poles measuring wind speed dot the hills of High Valley between Union and Cove. Apparently, those belong to another wind company.

I will leave the economics, tourism impacts and tax ramifications to Wilkinson and others. I will, however, speak loudly to the beauty and wildlife of our rural Eastern Oregon countryside. I live here, as I suspect most of you do, largely because of the unsurpassed views and tranquility that the Grande Ronde Valley is renowned for. Lord knows Union County could use an economic shot in the arm, but no amount of short-lived construction jobs justifies, in my mind, forever spoiling the landscape we all know and love.

The Grande Ronde Valley is unique because it is a valley completely surrounded by mountains. Let’s not allow it to become a valley surrounded by windmills.

Beth Stewart lives in Union.