UPDATE, 3:36 p.m.: The Terra-Gen Wind Project Has Been Denied
Bass had just said she’s sticking with her vote to support the project.
Madrone said he thinks the board has talked it through and thanked the audience. He then moved to have the county sign the indemnification agreement regardless of the decision. Fennell seconded, and that motion passed unanimously.
Wilson then asked director Ford about making a motion approving option five, even with the applicant’s explanation that such a vote would kill the project’s prospects. Ford said the options are tailored for approving the project, so language would have to be cleaned up.
Wilson asked about the ramifications of passing something that’s infeasible.
Ford said the county would be granting an entitlement, and Ford would want to make sure the documentation captured the findings of the board, which would be approving an infeasible project.
“This is a terrible day,” Wilson said. “There’s nothing about this that’s good at all.”
The board seemed momentarily stymied. Ford stepped in and said the board can make that decision, but he’d ask that as part of the motion, they should make a motion of intent and allow staff to bring back the final documentation on Jan. 7. Wilson said that would be an even worse option.
Bohn then stepped in and said we should all be thankful we live in Humboldt County, so he can’t call it a terrible day.
Wilson said one of the things influencing his pending decision to deny this is his uncertainty over the community disarray — some people would call it bullying, he said … and there he seemed to be at a loss.
“Cheryl, I love you,” he said, calling her a long-time good friend. But what influences his decision, he said, is the journey they took together with Tuluwat and other projects. “I’m having such a difficult time,” he said. “But I’m having such a difficult time getting there. … I want to approve this project. I really do. … This is really hard. I don’t know what to do,” Wilson said.
Bass stepped in and made a motion to adopt a resolution:
- certify that the EIR has been compared in compliance with CEQA
- certify the FEIR was presented to the board
- adopting the statement of overriding considerations
- adopt resolution to find the project is consistent with the general plan
- grant the applicant’s appeal …
There were others, but the gist here is that she moved to approve the project.
Bohn seconded the motion.
Ford asked whether the motion included an added provision to consider hydrology. Bass said, “That’s fine.”
Bohn quipped that you could add pixie dust.
The roll-call vote went as follows:
- Fennell: no.
- Wilson: (after a pause) no.
- Bass: yes.
- Madrone: no.
- Bohn: yes.
The motion failed, 3-2.
Bohn said the project is denied, and the crowd erupted. But hold on a second. Ford explained that they needed to actually pass a motion.
Madrone moved to deny the project. After some confusion about additional verbiage regarding the reason for denial, Fennell offered a second
- Fennell: yes.
- Wilson: (again, pausing) yes.
- Bass: yes.
- Madrone: yes.
- Bohn: no.
That’s it. The Humboldt Wind Energy Project is dead.
— Ryan Burns
UPDATE, 3:17 p.m.: Project Appears to be Headed for Denial
At this point, it looks like this project is headed for denial.
Addressing the Terra-Gen officials, Fennell said, “We have to recognize the impact that this will have.” There’s no compromise possible, she said. “I don’t think, with all due respect, that doing a portion of the tax revenue is really the answer.”
“I’m hopeful that we have plenty of other clean energy projects,” she continued. She said she believes other projects will come down the line. “I don’t believe that this is the end of our future. It’s one project.”
She said both she and her colleagues at the RCEA were excited about this project, but she advised the agency board against taking an official stand.
Bass said she thinks she sees the direction this is going.
— Ryan Burns
UPDATE, 3:05 p.m.: Terra-Gen Offers $1M, But the Wiyot Tribe Refuses to Be Bought
Wilson said he resents the current presidential administration for putting the county in this position by ending the tax credit program that Terra-Gen is pursuing here.
Wilson said he gives fellow Supervisor Steve Madrone a hard time over his suggestion that small-scale solutions like solar panels and micro-hydro can compare to a project of this scale. And he said the county doesn’t analyze the many smaller developments on subdivided properties in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in the same way this project has been analyzed.
“That part is just really hard for me,” Wilson said, referring to our failure to account for the energy repercussions of our everyday lives. “We have internalized the construct of cheap fossil fuels that have created our society … ,” he said. “We’ve got a long ways to go on this.”
He asked County Chief Administrative Officer Amy Neilson for a recounting of tax revenues slated to come from this project. The first year would result in an estimated $278,000 in property tax revenues and about $1.4M in sales tax revenues, she said, and over the life of the project, $7.4 million in property tax, $2.3 million in sales to the county’s general fund.
“I have a really hard time with this project being on Bear River Ridge,” Wilson said, asking whether some of that revenue could go to affected nearby communities.
“I am really leaning toward alternative five,” Wilson said, suggesting that removing the 20 turbines proposed for Bear River Ridge from the plan could make the difference in his vote.
Terra-Gen VP Randy Hoyle said that would render the project financially infeasible. “No one will invest in this project” if those turbines aren’t included in the project, Hoyle said. “Removing the turbines from Bear River Ridge, this project will not be built.”
“Are there no turbines that can be removed from this project?” Wilson asked. “This is terrible; I’ll just tell you. The scale of the potential value versus the impacts are in the balance — which kind of pushes me to the place that we’re not going to do this.” He said it’s terrible and patronizing that the county is having these discussions about Wiyot land without them directly involved. “I’m crying,” he said.
Hoyle responded, saying there’s an ability to redirect a portion of the county’s tax revenue to the affected people. “I believe that is in your discretion,” he said.
Hoyle say Terra-Gen is also willing to fund a community endowment prior to the start of operations for the board to distribute at its sole discretion. “A million-dollar community endowment is something the applicant is willing to consider,” he said.
Bohn said he knows sacred sites are not for sale, and he called up Wiyot tribal elder Cheryl Seidner to ask if there are other sites she’d like to be assisted in registering as historical landmarks.
Seidner asked her chairman, Ted Hernandez, for permission to speak, and then told Bohn that there’s not enough money to do that. “You would not sell your mother. We cannot sell our Earth,” she said. “We come from the Earth.” She said she knows the Russ family has similar feelings, and she respects union workers. But as Wilson said, the tribe needed to be at the table for these discussions, she said.
“Bring us in before you break ground,” Seidner said.
“I could have predicted that’s what Cheryl would say,” Fennell said.
— Ryan Burns
UPDATE, 2:37 p.m.: Bohn Doesn’t Indicate Which Way He’s Leaning
Bohn said he’s probably the last guy to jump on climate change. He recalled the Shell Wind Energy project proposed eight years ago or so and reminded the crowd that he came out opposed to it.
But the lack of tribal opposition to that project led him to assume they wouldn’t be opposed to this one. That said, he added it makes sense that Bear River Ridge is considered sacred, though the county needs to know where such sacred places are.
“If this project gets voted down,” he said, we won’t see any similar proposition come along for quite a while because of fear of the unknown.
Most commercial leases run out in 30 years with an option to renew, so Bohn believes there will be options for Terra-Gen to continue with the project 30 years hence if it’s functioning well. And there may well be an option to replace the turbines with bladeless ones at that point, he said.
He rejected the notion of waiting for the county to develop a wind turbine policy before approving this project.
Bohn responded to Madrone’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” quote with a mention of a Super Bowl commercial in which that song was paired with images of wind turbines.
He said wind energy offshore can compliment what we’re doing, but we shouldn’t wait for it. He said he’d like for some concessions to be made — perhaps a community center for Rio Dell and Scotia, and maybe a solar financing program. “I want a little give-back, if it does go through,” he said.
He’ll disappoint people either way he votes, Bohn said. “You don’t take this job to disappoint people, but damn, you get to do it.” But he said he’s not worried about his political career. His career is raising his grandkids. Nevertheless, he lost sleep over this decision, he said.
“We need to work with the tribal liaisons” to make sure sacred sites are protected, Bohn said, and he added that the county can assist the tribes to register others “so this doesn’t happen again.”
He commended Wiyot Tribe Chair Ted Hernandez on the group of younger people who’ve lined the back of the room with protest signs, being respectful. “You young people, nice job,” Bohn said.
He didn’t indicate which way he’d vote.
— Ryan Burns
UPDATE, 1:41 p.m.: Wilson Offers His Thoughts
Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson took a step back to talk about big issues such as corporations and capitalism and the constructs of a society completely built around cheap fossil fuels. “Everything around us has basically been derived from cheap fossil fuels,” he said, noting they’re cheap in price if not in terms of costs to the environment.
“We drive in desecrations,” he said. Gas stations are a desecration.” We have a highway that goes across Tuluwat Island — a highway! And we drive across it without thought.” He said it’s “super painful” to have this conversation and said he’s been not sleeping for six weeks because of the internal conflict wrought by this issue.
To be quite honest, he said, he still has a hard time with where this is going. The discussion we’ve been having today and yesterday has been about this project, but not so much about the trajectory of our everyday lives — the energy powering the lights in this room and their energy source, for example, Wilson said.
“If we could only look into the eyes of indigenous people who’ve been impacted” every time we put gas in our tank — “not just here but all over the world,” Wilson said. There’s a big difference between having an opinion and making a decision, he added. Sounding emotional, Wilson talked about his work as an environmental engineer, saying he learned a lot about culture, its adaptation and the resilience of native people in this community.
He worked on the Indian Island project, working with the Wiyot Tribe on erosion control and a coastal development permit to clean up and protect the site for future use, he said. He said he’s worked with people who’ve suffered generational trauma, and yet he’s also seen a renaissance of native culture that has offered “nothing but value” to our local community.
“I’m just putting forward … that we have to be understanding that a project like this, if it’s to move forward on what’s considered a sacred site, that trauma, it’s real, and we have to account for it in some way,” Wilson said.
He mentioned a student who spoke yesterday and, despite his having been in Humboldt only two months, offered some of the best meeting’s commentary, noting that the tribes hadn’t been consulted as a planning partner.
“That’s what’s weighing very, very heavily on me,” he said regarding tribal concerns, though he said the global impact — meaning climate change — is also “very, very real.” This project would have a significant impact related to climate change, Wilson said. “We’re, on a global scale, we’re at war,” he said, before apologizing for the word choice. “We’re in an emergency.”
“This is tough,” he said before saying he’d like to hear from his fellow supervisors.
“This is an existential crisis that we’re in — culturally, environmentally, on a local and global perspective,” Wilson said. “I really wish I wasn’t here today.”
— Ryan Burns
UPDATE, 2:26 p.m.: Fennell Calls for Divesting From Fossil Fuels But Says She Can’t Support This Project
Fennell agreed that this is a very difficult decision. She said she’s heard some pretty harsh words thrown her way during public comment, but she is, by nature, not afraid of challenges — or at least willing to take them on.
Regarding the claim that she has a conflict by serving on the board of the RCEA, she said it’s not a conflict as she has “absolutely zero” financial interest and serves on that board as a representative of the board.
“I’m in awe of this process, here,” she said, expressing gratitude to staff, law enforcement, the public, Access Humboldt, even the media. “We’re all playing a part in this historic day. We’re doing it with dignity, and that appeals to me very much,” Fennell said.
“Much of the input we’re hearing is based on fear,” she said. The loss of natural resources on one side and the fear of unmitigated climate emergency on the other. “But there’s another motivating factor for me — and that’s vision,” Fennell said.
Reading prepared remarks, she said she’s always been a proponent of renewable energy, and her passion is for teamwork — working together for common good solutions.
“This project is one of the most divisive I have ever dealt with” she said, adding that she feels compelled that we as a society must divest ourselves from fossil fuels.
“As I vote today, I know that there is no way to avoid disappointing some,” Fennell said. But avoiding disappointment is no way to make decisions, she added. “In the final analysis,” she said, “there are a significant number of issues that give me pause.”
She said it’s no surprise to her that the communities that would be most affected by this project are the ones that are arguably the worst off, including Rio Dell. “We as a species have been extremely aggressive” in an effort to meet our needs, she said. Can we harvest the power of the wind without tearing the Earth apart? she asked. No solution is perfect. She understands that neighbors and tribal members don’t want the project, she said.
“I spent hours and days and nights poring over this EIR,” she said. What she ended up seeing, she said, is that the impacts would be too much to bear for the environment and the community. Coupled with the overwhelming response of her community, she has concluded that the project is not a good fit for the location, and she cannot support it.
— Ryan Burns
UPDATE, 2:12 p.m.: Madrone Says There are Lots of Solutions to Climate Change
“You know, change is in the wind, right?” Madrone said, apparently quoting Bob Dylan. Indeed, he went on to quote a whole verse. “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind.”
Madrone said this is a really difficult decision for everyone up there and everyone in the community, and he said he looks forward to the day when projects unite the community rather than divide it.
No matter how divisive this project is, though, it’s incumbent on everyone to show respect to their neighbors, he said.
After acknowledging that climate change is very real, he said he’s brought in over a million dollars to the county through watershed programs, and so clearly he supports labor. But there are many options to create these jobs. Offshore wind is coming, he said — a great opportunity that would provide power directly to Humboldt.
Small hydro power is just coming on in the last couple years — a good option in rural Humboldt County, Madrone said. Each community might have different solutions to getting us off reliance on fossil fuels, he said, and he believes new wind power — not involving “propellers” — will be developed before long. Wave energy is exciting, he said.
Forest and prairie preservation is important, too, Madrone said. Rooftop solar, micro-grids, electric buses, increasing mass transit, trails — all good options for reducing our energy footprint, he continued.
“Just because someone does not support the Terra-Gen project does not mean they’re not concerned about climate change,” Madrone said, adding that he was amazed there didn’t seem to be any notable denial that climate change is, in fact, real.
“I do believe the EIR is inadequate,” Madrone said. “I have a real problem with the overriding considerations.” He expressed skepticism about the geo-fencing and the ability to shut turbines down in enough time to protect eagles and condors. “Some of you may notice I’m wearing eagles today,” he said, referring to his shirt.
He also said he believes fire danger is very real and that there are conditions that would make this project better — including a provision to ultimately give this land back to the Wiyot. He believes Bear River Ridge should be registered as a historic district, and the Wiyot tribe deserves reparations. He said he wishes he could delay this decision to give more time for negotiation with the Wiyot.
“These are all things I have concerns for, so I would be supportive of delaying this project until those mitigations could be worked out,” Madrone said.
— Ryan Burns
UPDATE, 2:06 p.m.: Bass is Conflicted
Bass agreed with Wilson, noting that she comes from the restaurant business and is a people pleaser by nature, but each supervisor will lose friends over this vote.
Yesterday, she said, people got unruly in the crowd as the day wore on, which scared and intimidated some folks. (Someone in the back hissed at this.)
“To say I’m conflicted is definitely putting it mildly,” Bass said.
She said the City of Eureka’s decision to give Tuluwat Island back to the Wiyot, but the City also sent a letter of support for this project.
Bass said there were a lot of wonderful comments, and she said it was “so good to see” young people in particular show up to a public meeting. She brought up a speaker who pointed out that her own district would benefit from the project but would not pay the costs.
Eureka, being the county seat, sees more crime, addiction and homelessness, Bass said. It contains the county jail and homelessness services. Eureka bears burdens, too, such as traffic, she said, while also generating the majority of Measure Z revenues.
Then she moved it along to Supervisor Madrone.
— Ryan Burns
UPDATE, 1:17 p.m.: No Decision Yet … But It’s Coming This Afternoon
“I guess I’m laying down a card or two,” Wilson said before asking what the county can do to extricate this project from Bear River Ridge “in respect and response to the comments in the DEIR from the Wiyot Tribe.”
Hoyle said, “We have had a dialog with RCEA regarding moving turbines on Bear River Ridge. That price is like a dollar a megawatt-hour. It’s an incredible — it’s material.” It would increase the cost, and decrease the marketability of the power generated, he said. And Terra-Gen will need other willing energy buyers, besides RCEA, to make the project financially feasible.
Bass brought up some public criticism regarding the short, two-year term of most jobs that would be created by this project. She mentioned a letter submitted to the county saying that a two-year job can lead to a 40-year career.
A labor union member — presumably the author of the letter — got up to the lectern and said that even a six-month job is considered significant in the construction world, and the connections made with contractors, hiring halls and other individuals can prove invaluable.
“Is this the most divisive project you’ve worked on,” Madrone asked Terra-Gen officials.
“It’s definitely one of the most spirited,” Hoyle said.
Bohn said this certainly doesn’t seem like a rushed project, as he and Fennell were among the first to hear about it. Eight years ago, when the Shell project was proposed for Bear River Ridge, most of the objection came from residents of Ferndale, he said. “Was there any site that was even close to being comparable or usable” besides Bear River Ridge, he asked?
Hoyle said the No. 1 criterium was wind, and SODAR units revealed that the wind resource atop Bear River Ridge is good. The company looked at nine other nearby ridges, and while other ridges had quality wind resources, Bear River Ridge was the only one that had the necessary private ownership and feasible transportation solutions.
Ford, returning to the matter of the “Eel River flyway” Madrone mentioned earlier, said his staff had never heard of it, and a Google search revealed no such thing.
Fennell then requested a 10 minute break, which Bohn granted, saying they’ll return with deliberations and a decision. Stay tuned.
— Ryan Burns
UPDATE, 12:55 p.m.: More Q-and-A Between Supes, Staff and Terra-Gen
The supervisors are taking turns asking two questions apiece.
Madrone brought up the recent agreement with union labor, saying his understanding is that this provision added $50 million to the cost of the project. Hoyle said that’s absolutely not accurate.
“My point is you said that you cannot afford to fully decommission those sites,” Madrone said. “I’ve actually done decommissioning,” he added. “I’ve done six acres of this in the last five years.” Madrone appeared to be trying to poke holes in the company’s decommissioning plan for the 47 concrete pads. He said it’s feasible, “and out of respect for this land that’s exactly what needs to happen.” He asked Terra-Gen if they’d be willing to accept a condition requiring full removal of those pads. (The decommissioning plan currently just calls for the company to remove infrastructure to an at-grade level but not to dig out the concrete bases of each pad.)
Hoyle said that would be infeasible, but he added that the company could commit to spending up to $50,000 of decommissioning per turbine.
Bohn asked Terra-Gen to explain the tax credits “one more time.”
Hoyle replied that the renewable energy incentive for wind energy involves federal incentives that provide a direct reduction in the price of power for the end user. Those tax credits are stepping down from 100 percent to 80, then 60, then 40 percent before going away entirely. For every $100 you invest in solar, you receive $30 in tax credits, he said.
Hoyle later defended the mitigation measures to protect condors, saying Terra-Gen has the most active geo-fencing initiative in the State of California for identifying condors and providing information to other generators in the area for when condors are present.
Fennell asked whether the turbines might heat or dry the air. Ford, the county’s planning and building director, said there’s not conclusive information on that.
“Lies!” someone in the crowd shouted in response.
Wilson asked: If the county wanted to be an investor in this project — investing, say, $100 million to be an owner in this or another project — is that a possibility? Hoyle said a couple things need to be considered regarding public ownership. The federal production tax credits have to be sold to an unrelated party, he said.
This didn’t seem to answer Wilson’s question, which, he clarified, was about the potential for a public-private partnership for ownership of such projects. Hoyle said that would be “awfully complicated.”
Bass said she’s talked to Kern County supervisors, who vouched for Terra-Gen. (The company is building a wind energy project there.) But she asked the company if they’d like to respond to an “unnamed source” that Madrone claimed had contacted him.
Hoyle said he’s spoken with all five of that county’s supervisors, and he suggested any concerns from Kern County staff were likely “embellished.”
Madrone acknowledged that “this [anonymous] individual” spoke highly of Terra-Gen but expressed surprise that the county would proceed with a wind energy project without a wind energy ordinance in place.
“The really big issue here … ,” Madrone said, “is that the tribes are not supportive of this project.” He brought up the recent return of Tuluwat Island to the Wiyot after “70 years of genocide” and asked whether the landowner and Terra-Gen might consider a mitigation measure of entering a lands agreement with the Wiyot, allowing the tribe to reclaim the property after the 30-year duration of the wind farm lease.
Hoyle responded that the decision to lease or sell belongs to the landowners. “We are tenants on their property,” he said. He didn’t think the Russ family or the Humboldt Redwood Company — the two parties who own the land where the turbines would be located — are interested in that, and they have property rights. “We support our private landowners,” he said.
“If we approve this project then we are likely to get sued,” Madrone said, immediately after clarifying that an indemnification agreement would protect the county from direct financial responsibility for defending such a suit.
Bohn asked about the fire risk — minimal, Hoyle said. Regarding earthquake risks, Hoyle downplayed the, saying, “These are well-studied and well-known impacts as it relates to turbine towers and seismic events.”
Wilson asked for the total amount of greenhouse gases that would be produced during construction of this project.
The answer from Ken Koch, the CEQA project manager,, was 246 metric tons, 156 of which would be related to construction activity, which would cease within 18-24 months, he said.
“So within two years, you’re saying, this will have made up its carbon footprint,” Wilson said.
“No,” Koch responded, “in the first year it will make it up.” The project will become carbon neutral within the first 12 months, he said.
— Ryan Burns
UPDATE, 11:47 a.m.: The Supervisors Have Questions
The matter came back to the Board of Supervisors as Bohn closed the public hearing.
Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell asked Ford about offshore wind projects, saying she’s familiar with the one being pursued by the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (an agency on whose board she sits). She said floating platforms have been proven in the North Sea.
Ford said one experimental project has been built in North America, a 30 megawatt project that’s operational. But there are no other projects in North America that are built, he said.
Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson asked Ford to respond to concerns from bat experts and from the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC). Namely, he wanted more information on the technical advisory committees (TAC) that would monitor birds and bats around the project site, among other issues raised by EPIC.
In response, Ford said EPIC’s concerns have all been addressed. An indemnification agreement will protect the county, he said.
Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass said she sent Ford multiple questions after yesterday’s meeting. And she asked for clarification from Terra-Gen about the claim that the turbines would be state-of-the-art.
Hoyle, the Terra-Gen VP, said “state-of-the-art” for them means anything above three megawatts. Turbine technology has come a long way, and both capacity and efficiency have increased. These are the best onshore turbines available, Hoyle said.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone brought up bird flight paths, noting that at the Eel River there’s a junction of two flyways, with the river corridor serving as a bird highway of sorts for birds going to and from the Central Valley. He didn’t see that addressed in the EIR.
Ford consulted with his staff. Susan Sanders, with AECOM, said the Eel River is not unique in being a travel corridor. There’s movement along all the rivers in Humboldt County, not just the Eel.
Madrone countered that the Eel runs diagonally and is thus more significant as a flyway, so he’ll take it from the county’s response that they don’t consider it significant. He disagrees.
Madrone also brought up small aircraft pilots, saying it’s common for them to come through the “Bear River Mattole hole” during foggy conditions, flying over Monument Ridge. They would encounter the turbines, if this project were built. “Are you aware of this flight path significance … ?” Madrone asked.
Ford said staff was not, but is looking into it now.
Madrone asked whether CEQA allows financial feasibility — or the lack thereof — to be considered a legal justification for finding mitigation infeasible. Ford said it is, and cited a specific code section.
Board Chair Rex Bohn, who represents the First District, asked whether there are any guarantees in writing that local aquifers will not be negatively affected. Ford said staff has suggested a new condition be added to the project ensuring just that. Hoyle, from Terra-Gen, said the water quality control board will also ensure as much.
Bohn also asked where all the turbine components are being manufactured. Hoyle said original equipment manufacturers rely on a global supply chain, though the factory where the blades will be fabricated is in Colorado.
Fennell asked how long the blades are. The rotors are 126 meters in diameter, meaning 63 meters (or about 200 feet) per blade, Hoyle said.
— Ryan Burns
UPDATE, 11:14 a.m.: The County Responds to Public Comment
John Ford, the county’s planning and building director, countered feedback that the environmental impact report was rushed, saying this project has been in the application process since May of 2018, an 18-month stretch.
The thing that’s different than most projects, here, is the amount of public feedback, Ford said. “We received over 800 pages of comments in response to the FEIR,” he added. And he said those comments have been adequately addressed through public engagement.
There were staff-to-staff consultations with the Wiyot and the Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria, Ford said.
“If I’m beginning to sound a little defensive about the quality of the EIR, it’s because I am,” Ford said. He defended the scientists who prepared the document, saying they’re extremely experienced. “They were actually complimented by CDFW on the quality of the base survey work that was done,” he said.
Ford said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will monitor the success of the release of condor as they’re reintroduced to the region, saying that has nothing to do with the Humboldt Wind Project. “If it is successful they will continue to tag and put transmitters on the birds,” he said. This was in response to questions from Supervisor Mike Wilson yesterday.
Regarding the AB 52 process (see below), Ford said, “We have tried to take that with sincerity and honesty and integrity” in an effort to determine the tribes’ concerns. The county has identified the impacts to tribal resources as significant and unavoidable, though he said it was never disclosed to county staff that Bear River Ridge was a sacred prayer site — until after the production of the EIR.
None of the impact findings changed between the draft and final environmental impact report, Ford said.
The significant, unavoidable impacts can be broken down into three groups, Ford said. Short term, there’s the air quality impact. Assuming all the vehicles that could be operating on the project site are operating at the same time on the same day (highly unlikely), the county identified this as a significant impact. In all likelihood it won’t really be significant, Ford said.
Then there are the unavoidable impacts — aesthetics being one. The turbines will be visible, and there’s just no mitigating that.
The other unavoidable impact, on which the county is taking a very conservative stand, pertains to biology. The marbled murrelet identifies approximately 7.7 birds would likely die over the 30-year life of the project, Ford said.
The mitigation measures include removal of turbines from high-passage areas. And the corvid management plan would result in roughly 50 new murrelets, a net benefit to the species, Ford said. But the county kept the impact identified as “significant, unavoidable” simply out of an excess of caution due to the uncertainty involved, he explained.
Ford then returned to the subject of tribal consultation, saying too often people negotiate from a position of win-lose. That is the position the Board of Supervisors finds itself in here, Ford said. The AB 52 process has been followed and fulfilled, and the decision point is now before the board, he explained.
Regarding the Pacific Flyway, Ford said birds generally fly north-south along the coast, whereas these turbines would be oriented east-west, and situated inland.
The EIR has evaluated a discreet project, and its CEQA analysis is adequate, Ford insisted.
The reason the City of Rio Dell was not included in the EIR is because they’re not a permitting agency for the project, Ford said.
As for offshore wind, RCEA said yesterday that’s seven to 10 years off, Ford noted. And while a number of offshore wind projects have been proposed in the U.S., none have been built.
— Ryan Burns
UPDATE, 10:58 a.m.: Terra-Gen Defends Itself
With public comment completed, Randy Hoyle, senior VP and chief development officer of Terra-Gen, said he’d like to respond to being called a liar. With a terse voice he called it “an unfounded statement with zero examples provided” and said he’d offered “straight talk about Terra-Gen and the project.”
You cannot deliver the results Terra-Gen does without having honesty and integrity, he said. And regarding threats, veiled or otherwise, he said Terra-Gen is committed to the project.
Regarding potential for the county to be sued, Hoyle said his company has already signed an indemnification agreement, meaning Terra-Gen would be responsible for all legal expense.
He sought to clear up some other misinformation, saying the public assertion that this project would create 47 parking lots-worth of concrete was way off. The actual amount of actual above-ground area for each turbine pedestal would be 254 square, he said.
National Audubon Society supports the project, though the local Audubon chapter disagrees. Hoyle said the inclusion of the Audubon logo in their presentation was not meant to imply local chapter support.
The turbine installation would actually stabilize the ridge line, which has been identified as unstable, Hoyle said.
Hoyle said any tax credits the company receives would be a pass-through for end users, meaning if the project receives tax benefits, energy prices for consumer would be lower.
“We will not be using groundwater for construction” Hoyle said, adding that the company is required by the DEIR to do a pre-construction hydrology study to ensure no streams or aquifers are affected. “There is no risk to Rio Dell’s water supply [or] Jordan Creek,” he said.
Hoyle also said Terra-Gen agrees not only to never expand the Humboldt Wind Project but also to never pursue another wind project here.
Wind energy has been shown to be a safe, clean and reliable energy that can benefit Humboldt, Hoyle said, adding that Terra-Gen has invested $4 billion in California communities. And he said this has not been a rushed process; rather, it started four years ago.
By the end of this week, Terra-Gen must decide whether to apply tax credits to this project or another one. So any additional delay will be treated as a denial, Hoyle said.
“We’re offering you not only expertise and investment; we’re offering you a tangible project,” he told the board. “Terra-Gen is a company that is driven to deliver clean energy to California.” He respectfully requested approval of the project.
The crowd erupted angrily at the conclusion of his statements, noting Hoyle didn’t mention the Wiyot once.
— Ryan Burns
UPDATE, 10:09 a.m.: McCavour Weighs In
Planning Commissioner Melanie McCavour, who gave a lengthy speech explaining her opposition to the project during that body’s deliberations, today spoke on her own behalf, and she urged the Board of Supervisors, “Don’t trade an inferred and projected effect for a direct effect.”
She urged the board to deny the project.
David Simpson said he and Jean — his wife — have been doing theater about climate change, and he warned the room that anything they say today might end up in their next show. He, too, called on the board to reject the project.
When he finished, Bohn told him he’d either need to grow a ponytail or gain some weight if he planned to play him or Supervisor Steve Madrone in a future theatrical production. Simpson did not look amused.
Finally a project supporter appeared. She said she doesn’t doubt her environmentalist friends their convictions in opposing the project, but asserted Humboldt County is not an island. She noted that in the last 10 years in California, 100 million trees have died from drought, and she said Bear River Ridge would have the honor of hosting green energy if the project were approved. And she brought up Wiyot tribal elder Cheryl Seidner and asked, “Is all land sacred or just the land they seek to control.”
Her comments prompted angry cries from the crowd, including, “Bullshit,” “Shame on you!” and “racist!” But she also got some applause.
A labor union member also spoke in favor of the project.
— Ryan Burns
UPDATE, 10 a.m.: Opponents Galore!
It’s really a steady stream of project opponents this morning.
Linda Evans of McKinleyville said she’s worked as a CEQA practitioner and cautioned that approving the project would leave the county vulnerable to lawsuits. She also said tribal consultation should be a continuous process, “not a once and done.”
A man who didn’t give his name said it appears the project is “clearly inconsistent” with
Another man got up to the lectern and started chanting “Koyaanisqatsi” over and over, then embarked on a spoken word performance of sorts while thumping on a tribal drum. “Listen. Listen. Open. Heart. Go slow. … Obsolete technology. Destroying ecology. … Humanity versus insanity.”
Pretty sure he was against the project.
The speakers this morning are maintaining the tone of righteous indignation we saw at the end of the evening last night.
— Ryan Burns
UPDATE, 9:28 a.m.: Wilson Discloses an Interesting Conversation
Between the second and third public speaker of the day, Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson reports that he had an ex parte conversation last night with former California Assemblymember Mike Gatto, author of Assembly Bill 52.
That bill, signed into law in 2015, requires public agencies to consult with Native American tribes “that are traditionally and culturally affiliated with the geographic area of a proposed project that is subject to the California Environmental Quality Act.”
So, naturally, the law has been discussed over the course of deliberations for this project.
Wilson said that Gatto called him last night. He’d been watching the meeting and wanted to let Wilson know that the purpose of AB 52 was for tribes to disclose sacred sites in a designated, consultative process “that is supposed to be fairly specific.”
County staff has said that the Wiyot Tribe didn’t identify Bear River Ridge, or Tsakiyuwit in Wiyot, as sacred until after the designated notification window.
Wilson said that Gatto told him the goal of AB 52 “is to both allow tribes to have the ability to register [sacred sites] but also to give some kind of certainty to these deliberative and development processes … so the goalpost isn’t moving around as we move forward.”
As public comment continued, Hoopa Valley Tribe member Thomas Joseph spoke for his two minutes and then just kept on speaking, refusing to stop when his microphone was shut off.
He raised his voice and directed his comments directly at the Terra-Gen staffers even as Bohn told him to stop. Bohn eventually directed staff and his fellow supervisors to leave the room. When a woman in the crowd called him a coward he protested that he was told yesterday his family would be killed and he’d be shot, yet he showed up anyway.
So far today the public comments have been exclusively against the project.
— Ryan Burns
UPDATE, 8:55 a.m.: Off and Running …
People are still filing into the Adorni Center, but it looks to be a smaller crowd than yesterday.
Board Chair Rex Bohn led the Pledge of Allegiance and then warned the public not to throw any F-bombs since that would be an FCC violation.
Public comment picked up with No. 213 on the list of, I believe, 230 speakers who’d signed up at yesterday’s meeting. [Update: The list actually went into the 260s.]
That speaker, Uri Driscoll, said he really tried to like this project, given the union jobs and the source of alternative energy. But its siting and lack of adequate water render it a bad idea, he said.
A woman named Rainbow followed Driscoll and called out the Terra-Gen staffers seated to her left for having plastic bottles on their table. “I don’t see a green company here,” she said.
— Ryan Burns
After yesterday’s marathon special session at the Adorni Center — catch up here — the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors looks poised to give Terra-Gen the final thumbs-up or thumbs-down at a second day of hearings today.
Here’s a guess at what the schedule will look like. Some 220 speakers signed up to address the board yesterday, and the board was able to get through the vast majority of them yesterday. Whoever remains on the list and is present this morning will have their say. At that point, supervisors will undoubtedly have plenty of questions for county staff and the applicants. Then a motion will be made and votes will be recorded. It probably won’t be too quick.
As we said yesterday, this is by several metrics the largest matter to come before the board in many years. The 47 wind turbines the company proposes to place on Monument and Bear River ridges is expensive, it has a large footprint, and it has generated an immense amount of controversy.
The hearing begins at 9 a.m. Spectators can tune into the Board of Supes’ video livestream or listen via KZZH-FM, Access Humboldt’s low-power radio station — 96.7 FM or streaming online in the player below.
We will again be updating this post all day.