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Pole Canyon Approved with Conditions

by Brian Orr

WALSENBURG- In a last-minute decision, the Planning and Zoning Board for Huerfano County approved a recommendation to go ahead with the Pole Canyon Wind Project, with eleven conditions.  According to PCW representative David Hettich, some would be no problem, some needed to be negotiated, and some were unacceptable.

    One of the potentially most contentious, that of having a waiver of any landowners within one mile of a turbine, was neatly diffused by PCW when they offered to set a royalty pool for any landowners within a subdivision (and this only applies to the Eagle Flats subdivision).  Landowners who want to participate will be paid a royalty based on acreage and how many turbines are near them.  Landowners who do not want to participate can opt out, and a tower setback from their property will be put in place.

    The other potential deal-killer, that of recording a power purchase agreement with the County, was striken off by the Commissioners.  As Building Inspector Steve Channel commented, “They wouldn’t be doing this if they didn’t have one.”

    The public hearing itself was pretty much a windmill love fest, with everyone from ranchers, law enforcement, school officials, geophysicists and people from across the county standing up to say they were all for the project.  Channel later said he had never seen such a positive public hearing.

    After to listening to almost an hour of testimony from PCW representatives and the public, and after the close of public input, Committee member Dale Davis  recommended approval with conditions.  The final vote was two in favor of the recommendation and one against. This recommendation will be passed on to the County Commissioners, who negotiated with PCW and also agreed, and voted unanimously to approve.

    Pole Canyon representative David Hettich laid out a compelling case for approving the project, noting it it will bring in at least $1.28 million a year to the county in property taxes, and provide at least 20 full time jobs, with an average salary of $40,000 a year.  It would provide around 200 temporary construction jobs as the windmills are being built, and contribute to the local sales tax as their employees stay here and eat here.  Hettich also pointed out his company’s past philanthropic efforts in other communities where they have built wind farms.

    In his presentation, Hettich noted there was virtually no negative environmental  impact, no ranching or agricultural impact, no impact on the watershed, no pollution and no noise.  “You can have a normal conversation at the base of one of these towers,” he said.

    The 300 megawatt 28,000-acre windfarm would generate enough electricity to power on average 80,000 to 100,000 homes.  Hettich noted that Huerfano County had a history of boom and bust cycles, but that wind energy would be around for a minimum of twenty years, and probably much longer.  “We are not affected by drought or the price of gasoline,” Hettich said.  “We’ll be here; rain or shine.”  ­

    In other dramatic Planning and Zoning action, Mickey Villella representing Subcarrier Communications had his chance to explain to the Board why exactly they wanted to build a 180 foot cell tower outside of La Veta.

    Villella stated the reason the tower was 180 feet high was so every cell phone carrier could use it, and not have to build three or four cell phone towers in the vicinity.  The location was chosen to provide maximum coverage to La Veta, up towards the Cuchara Valley, along Highway 160, Interstate 25.  Villella noted that the other proposed site for a cell phone tower- attached to the Town of La Veta’s water tanks, only provided 70 percent coverage solely for La Veta, and not the surrounding land or roads.

    Villella ended his presentation noting that this was a safety issue, allowing people in emergencies in remote locations would be able to contact emergency services.

    The Planning and Zoning Board opted not to hold a public hearing on the project, as they were not required to do so, and it would be expensive and time-consuming.  Villella noted that Subcarrier Communications wanted to have the tower up and working by November. The Board decided to recommend to the Commissioners that they allow a two-week period of written public comment on the subject, with a deadline of Sept. 19, and that the Board reconvene  Sept. 23 for a final recommendation.