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EDITORIAL: County steps in; state is missing in action

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By The Staff

Recently a group of residents from the Bernal area showed up at the San Miguel County Commission meeting to ask the county to enact stricter rules for wind farms.

The county deserves great credit for enacting a wind turbine ordinance in 2003, long before most other counties, but it now appears that updating that ordinance is in order.

When the county considered the ordinance five years ago, it received little public input. That’s because no one was actively seeking to build a wind farm. Now that an industrial-sized wind farm could be coming to the area, residents are naturally much more interested.

The residents presented proposed amendments to the ordinance, and for that we commend them; not only did they bring their concerns to the table but they also brought proposed solutions. And the county had a good response: It plans to have staffers meet with residents about their proposal.

One of the key provisions in the residents’ proposal would ban turbines from being any closer than eight miles to an occupied residence. This may be a bit excessive — if this ordinance were enacted, there would be very few places where wind farms could be built — but perhaps it’s a good counter to the half-mile setback now being planned by Invenergy.

The State Land Office has already taken the first steps to lease land on the Bernal Mesa to Invenergy. The land office always argues that its goal is to maximize revenue for the state trust fund for schools, but we think that it should also consult with area residents when such projects surface.

Moreover, it’s a shame that the state doesn’t require an independent environmental impact study. To its credit, Invenergy is voluntarily conducting one, though it’s unlikely that people will consider its findings credible. For example, there’s a growing concern that the turbines could kill migrating birds — a bird sanctuary is just a few miles away — and if Invenergy’s environmental study concludes that no harm will be done to the birds, who’s going to believe it? Even if it’s a well-done study, with solidly scientific findings, a skeptical public will write it off as skewed toward the company’s interest.

So far, we’re not at all impressed with the way the state is providing “oversight” regarding such issues. Instead, the only governmental entity that watching out for the public’s interests seems to be the county. Thankfully, our county officials appear committed to working with Bernal-area residents to ensure all our interests are properly considered.