This week’s extraordinary Board of Supervisors hearing to consider the Humboldt Wind Energy Project — a 16-hour feat of endurance spread across two days — included no shortage of drama.
Periodic shouting, cheering and hissing emerged from a crowd dotted with protest signs and hand-painted banners. During the marathon public comment session, threats were aimed at both public officials and Terra-Gen staff. Accusations of racism, colonialism, greed and duplicity flew as attendees grappled with such weighty matters our local history of tribal oppression and genocide, on the one hand, and a global future threatened by catastrophic climate change on the other.
The ramifications of the Board of Supervisors’ decision may prove long-lasting, and the meeting offered no shortage of things to pore over and analyze.
Here are just a couple: Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass’s flip-flop, and Third District Supervisors Mike Wilson’s evident torture over the decision.
We asked each supervisor to elaborate a bit on what happened.
In case you missed it, toward the end of the meeting, Bass made a motion to approve the necessary permits for Terra-Gen’s proposed wind farm, which would have consisted of 47 600-foot-tall turbines atop Bear River and Monument ridges. Only Bass and Board Chair Rex Bohn voted “yes,” so the motion failed, 2-3.
Just a few minutes later, Bass turned around and voted in favor of a motion to deny the project. That motion passed by a vote of 4-1 (Bohn being the lone dissenter).
What happened? Did Bass have a change of heart?
She explained in a text sent Tuesday night:
It was clear where the vote was going to go. While I would’ve liked to have seen the project move forward, there comes a point in time where you have to step back and accept that it’s not going to go that direction.
Could I have dug my heels in and voted to not deny the project? Certainly I could have, but the on-the-ground effects would not have been any different and it would only have caused a bigger divide in the community.
The divide in the community is part of what weighed so heavily on Wilson, he said in a phone conversation Wednesday. He also noted that the process that brought the project before the board was “flawed.” During the meeting he agonized over the matter of tribal consultation, which is now built into California law for projects such as this, and yet that didn’t prevent a painful conflict with the Wiyot Tribe, who consider Bear River Ridge a sacred prayer spot called Tsakayuwit.
“And there was so much misinformation and, frankly, toxicity that I’m not sure how we would have reached a positive endpoint, really,” Wilson said.
Most of the misinformation and vitriol seemed to come from the project opponents, he said. “I think the tendency in our community to view [projects] of this magnitude in negative ways is valid, from a certain perspective, but then the feedback loop that we create in ourselves through the confirmation biases we have really make these things difficult … . We’re tearing ourselves apart, and we really need to find a new way to talk to each other.”
Wilson said he “absolutely and truly empathizes” with the importance of sacred sites, and one of the lessons he plans to take into the future is the importance of early consultation with tribal governments, especially on landscape-scale projects such as this one.
But he was also concerned that approving the project would have only have prolonged the rancorous divide in the community.
“The idea of living through a wind energy Standing Rock situation was something that was — I wasn’t confident that would be positive for our community or wind energy in general,” Wilson said.
During deliberations on Tuesday, Wilson seemed truly at a loss for how to proceed, and he remarked more than once about the pain the decision was causing him, saying at one point, “This is a terrible day. There’s nothing about this that’s good at all.”
So the celebratory reaction among some in the community to the board’s decision has been difficult for Wilson to take.
“It was hard for me to have people thank me for a vote for the wrong reasons,” he said.
For his own part, he’s still miserable. “I feel like I let a lot of people down. I feel terrible,” he said. Asked whether, looking back on things today, he wishes he’d done anything differently, he said, “I still don’t know. There was no good … it just didn’t seem like there was a positive path forward.”
Shortly after our conversation, he texted: “This was not a victory for anybody.”