Residents of Lewis County's Commissioner District 2 packed the Baw Faw Grange to standing room only on Thursday night to hear from their representative, Commissioner Lindsey Pollock.
At least 80 people attended the meeting, but not for the traditional social frills offered by the grange hall. The topic of the evening was windmills, or as stated in the title of the commissioner's presentation, "Winds of Code Change."
Ahead of a Sept. 20 public hearing on a Lewis County code change that would allow for research steps to take place ahead of the potential startup of a windmill farm, Pollock was drumming up constituents to testify on the possible negative effects of establishing windmills in the area.
Though the code wouldn't ensure the automatic construction of a windmill farm, Pollock said once the research step had been completed, it would be harder to stop.
As code changes go, she said this one appears to be "pretty basic." However, she added due to recent changes in state law, the potential wind projects researched would have a "straight path" to the state for permitting, thereby bypassing the county's control over the erection of windmills if the research found them to be profitable.
"You can either get involved now or the next stage, if this project progresses, is at SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) level with the state," Pollock said. "Knowing the current governor's interest in green projects, it's unlikely that this small community is going to be able to have a voice. The place to have a voice is at the local level."
The code change, she said, would come at the behest of Scout Clean Energy, which is seeking to rent Weyerhaeuser property for the research on possible development of the energy-producing equipment. Pollock said she and her seatmates, Commissioners Lee Grose and Sean Swope, had been briefed on the research project by the Economic Alliance of Lewis County, formerly the Economic Development Council.
"Because I've been one of those people who paid attention to energy since I was about yay tall," she said, holding her hand near waist-level, "I was able to follow the rat path."
The Alliance has also facilitated talks between TransAlta and Fortescue Future Industries on the possible construction of a hydrogen plant at the soon-to-close Centralia coal plant, which Pollock previously spoke out against.
"The interesting thing about Lewis County is that we produce massive amounts of power (through hydro power on the Cowlitz River and the Skookumchuck Wind Farm). Much more than we use. To continue to build more energy projects in our area — where you have areas such as the Puget Sound region that need energy — it becomes the fact that we're busy hosting these sites, but we don't necessarily derive a direct benefit from them," she told The Chronicle ahead of the meeting.
Besides distaste for possibly losing what Pollock called "local control" over future energy projects, residents of district 2 were stirred up on Thursday with worries about the impact of windmills on energy bills, views, birds, the environment and the efficiency of their use in energy production. Wind turbines are built on ridgelines without obstructions, Pollock said, implying that by their nature, they may threaten the natural beauty of the Boistfort Valley.
"Are you aware of the deaths every year to the avian population caused by these wind farms? A couple thousand eagles. If I shoot an eagle, I get a big fine. But if the wind farm kills an eagle it gets a buy, it gets a pass," said Neil Stewart Jr. as he read from a several-page list of concerns after the initial presentation was completed.
As the microphone was passed around the room and residents spoke out, Pollock projected the emails and phone numbers of herself and her fellow commissioners on the screen, encouraging folks to express their worries to the county before the code change moved forward. She told The Chronicle before the meeting her main motive was to inform the public on the hearing that would take place later this month.
When one local suggested "bombarding these people with emails," Pollock said, "I can tell you that it's easier to put an email into a file than it is to tell (off) somebody sitting or standing in front of you. But yes, do that. But trust me, it's going to be much more effective to have people in there. ... That physical presence makes a huge difference."
The public hearing is set to be on the agenda for the Tuesday, Sept. 20 business meeting, which is held at 10 a.m. at the Lewis County Courthouse inside the commissioner's hearing room on the top floor.