Local News

Wednesday, Sep 26 2012 09:31 AM

Board blows off wind-map plan

BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Kern County supervisors on Tuesday rejected approval of a wind energy guidance map that would have shepherded new wind energy development into areas near Tehachapi and Mojave that have already been filled with hundreds of new turbines over the past few years.

After county planning staff pursued an exhaustive effort to develop a map over the past year, supervisors decided that no map was needed.

Supervisor Zack Scrivner -- who represents the Mojave and Tehachapi areas where opposition to the wind industry is strongest -- was the only supervisor who supported the guidance map.

Scrivner said he will, personally, oppose development of commercial wind development on the property owned by the city of Vernon near Jawbone Canyon, in Sand Canyon or anywhere inside the Greater Tehachapi Specific Plan, or south of Highway 58 in the Hart Flat area.

But Old West Ranch resident Robert Moran, a vocal opponent of wind development, called the whole process a scam and said supervisors knew how they were going to act long before the meeting happened.

The idea for a map -- endorsed by Scrivner -- came from residents and elected leaders in eastern Kern County who wanted to see wind energy development restrained.

The county pursued development of a map, said Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt, because land owners, residents and wind industry leaders don't have a clear idea about where projects are or aren't allowed to be developed.

"Wind blows in a lot of places," she said.

Oviatt presented two maps Tuesday -- a "soft" map line and a "hard" map line. The soft line would have given guidance to developers about where the county thinks wind development is appropriate -- inside the map boundaries near Mojave and Tehachapi. The map, Oviatt said, would help the public understand basically where the county would like wind development would go.

But developers would be still be allowed to propose a project anywhere else in Kern County and gamble that they can persuade the supervisors to approve projects on a case-by-case basis.

The other option was to approve the "hard line" map that would prohibit wind energy development outside of the selected boundary map.

Oviatt recommended that supervisors endorse the "soft line" map concept. It is the kind of business-friendly development policy that Kern County is known for, Oviatt said.

But supervisors said the whole idea of a map violated the principal of private property rights. They are capable, they said, of determining which projects deserve approval on a case-by-case basis.

Opponents to wind development in eastern Kern County, who have united as to fight the forests of 500-foot-tall turbines that have already been raised near their homes, said the whole call for a wind energy map came from them.

They were strongly opposed to the soft map.

Mike Fortuna of the Friends of Mojave opposition group said the map was supposed to limit where wind energy development can take place.

Instead it changed into a permissive map, he said.

A long string of opponents said that Oviatt's recommendation is simply a lot of vague language designed to keep the county's options open.

The decision to reject any map had those people frustrated and fuming. Moran of Old West Ranch said the supervisors have sold the public out for campaign donations and tax revenue.

But the board's decision to take no action came as great news for major land owners who have been looking to host wind energy development on their property.

They don't want any map that might limit where projects can be developed.

Attorney George Martin reminded supervisors that every one of them ran for office saying they support private property rights.

He complemented Oviatt as the "hardest-working planning official in the state of California," but said the map changes what a wind project has to do to get approval.

"To quote one of my favorite movies, 'We don't need no stinking badges,'" Martin said. "Well, we don't need no stinking maps."

John Broome of the Loop Ranch said his family doesn't have plans to develop wind energy on its property at this time, but it opposes any limitations on their right to propose land use on their private property in the future.

"I urge you not to approve the map," he told supervisors.

The Loop Ranch is north of Highway 58 in the Hart Flat area.

But opponents of wind development said that when large land owners put massive wind turbines on their land they impact people who live nearby.

"My property value is just as important as their property value," said Robert Moran's wife, Donna.

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