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Echo Divide Wind Project Makes First Appearance In East County Planning Commission

Summit County
Location of the Echo Divide Wind Project on the Utah/Wyoming border

The proposal for a Summit County wind farm located near the Wyoming border made its first appearance before the East County Planning Commission last week.

Planning Commissioners had questions and pointed out areas that have to be addressed, but generally, they were open to looking to the project and thought the location was appropriate.

The project known as Echo Divide Wind would be located about seven miles west of Evanston near Interstate 80.

Staff planner Ray Milliner said the farm will have somewhere between 30 to 39 wind turbines, which will be about 500 feet tall. He said the farm can generate 100 megawatts of power, it can connect to a Rocky Mountain Power transmission line, and the project can supply nearly 22,000 homes.

“From our perspective, the staff’s perspective, it is an appropriate use for this site,” Milliner continued. “It’s consistent with the county’s goals of reducing emissions, just using more climate-change appropriate types of generation techniques rather than coal.”

The applicants are proposing that the Planning Commisison approve a general site plan for the wind farm. The county staff will then define more specifically where each turbine would go.

East County Planning Chairman Tom Clyde said that idea seems to be appropriate.

“And I think that’s a level of detail that’s going to be hard for us to wrap our heads around and deal with at all,” Clyde said. “So, it probably makes sense to delegate it to staff.”

He added that, since the county hasn’t handled this kind of project before, it might need to hire some planners, temporarily, with the skill set needed to review the farm.

The project is leasing a property of some 5,800 acres. But project developer Greg Probst and environmental consultant Spencer Martin said construction of the farm will affect a small percentage of the land property, the disturbance around each turbine would be just a couple of acres, and most of the disturbance will be restored after construction.

However, Clyde cautioned Probst that on that land, restoration could be easier said than done.

“As dry as that area is, it’s not going to re-vegetate very easily,” Clyde explained. “So, I’m concerned about the level of disturbance. Because once it’s disturbed, it’s going to stay disturbed. 

“The disturbance area that gets calculated for the 39-turbine layout was about 230 acres of disturbance during construction,” Martin replied. “And then most of that gets reclaimed back. So, you end up with about 47 acres of actual ground disturbance long term.”

Milliner said the nearest residences to the farm would be one or two miles away and there are no neighbors on the land inside Utah.

Tom Clyde said the developers also need to mitigate the visual impacts of the flickering created by the giant shadows of the wind turbines.

The applicants, Probst and Martin also said they have conducted a wildlife study for about two years, and that should be completed next month.

“The domestic animals do really well,” Probst continued. “In fact, the cows like to go up and rub on the towers.”

“They don’t seem to affect pronghorn deer or elk, from the few studies that have been done in Wyoming,” Martin explained. “Birds are the big issue and that’s why we study them fairly intensively. Wind turbines kill birds—I mean, there’s no way around it. But the relative number of birds they kill is very low overall when you look at other sources of anthropogenic impacts, like buildings or communication towers—or your cat. The actual population impacts are negligible, they’re considered negligible for the birds that are impacted the most, which are common songbirds. Raptors make up about eight percent of the total mortality from wind farms. And that’s more of a concern because raptors don’t make up eight percent of the total bird population. They’re much fewer than that. So, there does seem to be some issues with raptors and Golden Eagles in particular because they’re protected under the Gold and Bald Eagle Protection Act.”

Among the comments, Planning Commissioner Don Sargent said that of all the areas in the county, this is the appropriate spot for a wind farm, and the wind capacity is there. He said that personally, he doesn’t mind the look of the windmills. But he would have opposed putting the turbines down into Echo Canyon.

The applicants said if the farm is approved, construction would start around September of next year, and finish up by the end of 2021.

A public hearing before the East County Commission will be scheduled next month.

Known for getting all the facts right, as well as his distinctive sign-off, Rick covers Summit County meetings and issues. KPCW snagged him from The Park Record in the '80s, and he's been on air and covering the entire county ever since. He produces the Week In Review podcast, as well a heads the Friday Film Review team.
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