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Hearings on turbine plan start Thursday

The Island County hearing examiner will listen for two days to arguments regarding permits for a proposed tidal turbine pilot project in waters off Whidbey Island.

The Tulalip Tribes and the PC Landing Corp. are appealing permits issued by Island County for the temporary installation of two tidal energy generators in Admiralty Inlet and related onshore equipment structures.

The project is proposed by Snohomish Public Utility District.

The hearing starts Thursday, March 6.

Craig Collar, assistant general manager of the PUD, said the appeals are nothing new, but are the same issues the parties brought up in challenges to the Federal Energy Regulation Commission, or FERC. He said FERC rejected the appeals and is expected to issue a license shortly.

Whidbey Environmental Action Network, or WEAN, filed as an intervenor with FERC. Members of the environmental group said they’re concerned about the on-land portion of the project, which could impact a scarce plant community.

Marianne Edain of WEAN said the group is interested in sustainable alternatives to fossil and nuclear fuels, but technology that may do damage in other ways is not a true alternative.

“We would love to see a genuine test of this technology,” she said in an email. “Unfortunately SnoPUD has been cutting corners and changing the rules to push through this pilot project. It has been sloppy and inconsiderate. That does not further the science.”

Collar strongly disagrees with this characterization.

“We would invite anyone who is interested to actually review the FERC application, record, and project plan and draw their own conclusions based on the facts,” he said

Island County Planning Director Dave Wechner said the county is in an unusual position with regard to the appeals.

The county issued a shoreline conditional use permit to the Snohomish PUD based on the PUD’s own environmental study required under the State Environmental Policy Act, or SEPA, he said.

Though the Tulalip Tribe and PC Landing are challenging Island County’s issuance of the permit, they are focusing arguments on the sufficiency of the PUD’s environmental review.

Snohomish PUD proposes placing the “hydrokinetic pilot project” one kilometer west of Central Whidbey’s Keystone Harbor. It would be the centerpiece of the utility’s project to study the viability of using tidal currents to generate electricity.

The Tulalip Tribe argues that the PUD’s environmental study failed to address cumulation environmental impacts, failed to address impacts on endangered species and failed to address adverse impacts to Tulalip Tribe’s cultural sites in Central Whidbey from upland cable trenching operations, according to the statement of appeal.

The Tulalip Tribe is asking the hearing examiner to vacate the conditional use permit or remand the permit for additional environmental and archaeological review.

Collar said the turbines could be in place as early as the fall of 2015 if the PUD’s commission chooses to move forward.

 

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