Sunday, January 30, 2011
Burney jury still out on Hatchet Ridge
A band of wind turbines 6½ miles long towers over Burney.
The 44 turbines on Hatchet Ridge once were the topic of fierce debate in the small eastern Shasta County town, where lines were drawn between people who wanted to see jobs and economic benefits from construction and people who didn’t want blighted views and worried about danger to birds and other wildlife.
Now, just months after the turbine project was completed, those complaints seem to have faded.
“I have to be quite honest with you,” said David Larson, 70, of Burney, one of the project’s staunchest opponents. “There’s not the discussion I thought there would be. Everybody’s kind of accepted the whole project,” he said.
“I really thought people would be more upset than they are.”
The turbines began full delivery of power to Pacific Gas and Electric last month, said Denny Boyles, a PG&E spokesman.
The 103-megawatt project will supply enough electricity annually to power 50,000 homes, he said. PG&E is buying all of it, he added. He declined to say how much the company is paying.
A new ridge
There’s no doubt that the turbines changed the look of Hatchet Ridge, which forms Burney’s western skyline.
“They dominate the landscape from downtown,” said Ken Archuleta, 64, of Burney.
Archuleta, as was Larson, was part of Save the Burney Skyline, a grass-roots group that tried to block the project. The group’s key concern was how the turbines might ruin the natural beauty of the ridge above town. He’s worried now that wind power companies will build more.
“I’m just afraid that there’s another one and another one,” he said.
Warren Messick, the facility manager at Hatchet Ridge, has a different view. He said the turbines are a way to enjoy the scenery, for him at least.
He said his previous two jobs were in Southern California and Kansas at two places defined by flatland. Now his project is on a ridge with views of Mount Shasta and Lassen Peak.
“It’s kind of the envy of the wind industry,” he said.
Money and jobs
The turbines are bringing money and some jobs to Burney.
Pattern Energy of San Francisco gave $2 million last year — $1 million to Shasta County and $500,000 each to the Burney Chamber of Commerce, which passed the money to the Shasta Regional Community Foundation, and an education fund, said Russ Mull, director of resource management for Shasta County.
And for the next 20 years the company will give the county $100,000 annually and $25,000 per year to the Burney Regional Community Fund and Burney-Fall River Education Foundation.
Mull said the county hasn’t spent any of its share yet and is holding it in a savings account until there’s enough to pay for a new or remodeled building that will house the town’s library and county offices.
“The board has put it on hold with the understanding that there isn’t enough money yet,” he said.
How much the building will cost depends on its design and how many offices it holds. The building likely will cost $300 per square foot, said Pat Minturn, public works director. That could put the price in the millions. “It gets quite expensive,” he said.
As for jobs, the biggest benefactor around Burney has been Hat Creek Construction, which helped build the project and now is working to keep its maintenance road clear of snow.
“It’s provided a lot of work,” said Perry Thompson, vice president at Hat Creek. “We’ve been working there on and off for three years.”
When construction was in full swing the company had 40 or more workers doing tree clearing, building roads and creating pads for the turbines.
In all, the project provided the company about $15 million of work, Thompson said.
But Hatchet Ridge created fewer than a dozen permanent jobs, and all but one of those went to a local resident. The workers mostly moved in from outside the north state.
Pattern employs two people at the project, said Pattern spokeswoman Beth O'Brien: the facility manager, Messick, and an assistant manager, Larry Pruitt. Pruitt previously worked at Burney Forest Power, she said, while Messick worked at other wind projects around the country before moving to the north state to work at Hatchet Ridge.
Siemens, the German company that built the turbines, has eight workers at the project doing maintenance and troubleshooting. Of the eight, four live in Redding, three in Burney and one in Fall River Mills, said Monika Wood, Siemens spokeswoman.
But she didn’t know if those employees were from the north state or if they moved from elsewhere to fill the positions.
Sacred land and danger to birds
American Indians who protested the turbines and threatened lawsuits say the project destroyed a sacred site on Hatchet Ridge.
“You can’t replace it,” said Radley Davis, who was a part of the Advocates for the Protection of Sacred Sites.
He said he’s disappointed in the county’s leadership for approving the project and he’s ready to oppose any more wind power development.
Along with desecrating the land, the turbines are a danger to birds, opponents say. “They will be killing eagles and other birds in that area,” said Louise Davis, a councilwoman with the Istawi Band of the Pit River Tribe.
Pattern, the state Department of Fish and Game and the local Audubon Society chapter set up an advisory committee focused on monitoring bird mortality at Hatchet Ridge. The company hired an environmental consultant to watch for birds killed by the big blades.
“Absolutely no fatalities have been found to date during the surveys,” said Matt Dallas, Pattern spokesman.