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County delays wind decision

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Commission to meet again Monday on proposed law

By David Giuliani and Don Pace
Las Vegas Optic

The San Miguel County Commission put off a decision on a proposed law for wind farms Tuesday, after hearing public comment for much of the day.

It will reconvene Monday.

More than 100 people showed up in the commission’s chambers for the early-afternoon meeting on the county’s proposed wind ordinance. That was way more than the capacity of 67, so the county moved the meeting to the much larger Ilfeld Auditorium.

The most contentious issue was how far wind turbines could be away from homes.

A county task force proposed three miles, while the company looking at building a wind farm in the Valley — Chicago-based Invenergy — wanted the setback to be 1,500 feet, or a little more than a quarter mile.

County officials stressed that the hearing wasn’t about Invenergy’s proposal, contending that the proposed ordinance would apply to the entire county.

But it was hard to deny Invenergy’s role in the process. Indeed, the county began the drafting process a year and a half ago after Invenergy started considering the Bernal Mesa next to the Valley as a site for the wind farm.

After the general comment period Tuesday, the county allowed Invenergy to give a presentation on its views of the proposed ordinance and present expert witnesses.

Those pushing the three-mile setback were allowed the same courtesies.

Opponents of the Invenergy proposal, which would involve around 50 turbines, say that the wind farm would impact their view of the mesa, create constant noise and hurt wildlife.

Around 10 p.m., Commission Chairman David Salazar said he wanted to make a decision.

“It’s been two years, and I think it’s time the commission do something about it. Now that everybody has been given a chance to present their case, I am closing the hearing to public comment,” Salazar said.

Salazar said he and his fellow commissioners have spent many hours researching wind energy issues. He said for every argument against wind farms, there was an opposite view.

“As far as I’m concerned there is no evidence either way, so I’m not sold on the fact that wind turbines are a detriment to health, and, on the other hand, I’m not sure they aren’t,” Salazar said. “But I have not been pressured by anybody to vote either way.”

Salazar said going back to his great grandfather, his family has resided in the Bernal area.

“So when people tell me, ‘We love this area,’ I say, ‘Well, I love it too.’ But I have seen so many of my neighbors have to sell their property because they can’t afford to do anything with it. Now when they have an opportunity to do something, of course, they are going to be interested in that,” Salazar said.

Leger said he was “fried” and that the commission should decide on the wind turbine law next week.

“I have some suggested changes and revisions that I would like the rest of the members of the commission to consider. I hate to do this because I wanted to get this over with today, but my suggestion is for us to have a chance to digest the new evidence that has been provided, then reconvene next week. To be honest, at this point, I’m totally fried, I’m tired, and can’t think straight. So that’s my suggestion,” Leger said.

Commissioners June Garcia, Marcellino Ortiz and Albert Padilla agreed on a delay.

County Attorney Jesus Lopez suggested that the commission recess so that the county would not have to republish a new meeting date.    
The commission will reconvene at 1:30 p.m. Monday in its chambers on the second floor of the old county courthouse.