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Langell Valley wrong place to put proposed power plant
Published July 26, 2004

By GARY LONG - Guest Columnist

Gary Long has lived in Poe Valley near Bonanza for 10 years, where he farms. He retired from the Navy after 25 years and served in submarines.

Recently the state utilities siting council took testimony, and public comment regarding the site selection for the proposed power plant by Peoples Energy Corp. of Chicago in the Langell Valley. This project is called the Cob plant.

On the surface this seems to be a simple proposition that evolves around one issue: Can and should the the plant be placed on property zoned for exclusive farm use. In reality, this issue is far more complex. Certainly the exclusive farm use designation does not rule out a power plant use. That issue is not in dispute.

What is in dispute is the proposal's suitability and compatibility with the Langell Valley as an entire entity, and the suitability of any project that isn't a farm use being allowed to be placed in an exclusive farm use zone.

The Langell Valley is a pristine area of Klamath County and is the home of much wildlife that would not coexist with the power plant.

The residents of Langell Valley and the surrounding areas have listened patiently to the many and varied proposals put forth by Peoples Energy. The overriding concern by that entity is the profit motivation, and any regard they have for the area is tempered by that goal.

Issues need more study

The issues at the many hearings are long, and varied. In general there are about 70 farms affected by the project. While that number sounds insignificant, consider that these are farmers who pursue farming and ranching activities that will not be compatible with the proposed use.

Recently there were several issues brought up that need a much more in-depth review before any approval should go forward.

First Gale Whitsett, a trained geologist, indicated that since Klamath Falls seismic rating was changed to seismic zone 3, there have been no studies that would give the proposed property a clean bill of health in that regard. In fact, the last study done tends to indicate there may be a dormant fault within the Langell Valley that would dictate a higher construction standard than now planned.

The ongoing water issue remains. While Peoples Energy has scaled back the amount of water needed to operate the plant, and that is commendable, there is still the issue of whether the aquifer can support the water use and still remain a viable source for farmers and cattlemen. Certainly, Peoples Energy has put the best possible spin on this issue, but it has in fact not been shown that the water supply for all the entities involved would be sufficient. In several studies there have been results presented that would dictate that there needs to be more study.

These are only a few examples of the testimony and public comment presented that may need more review. What is important to note is that the only issue is not the Cob plant, but rather where they want to locate the project. Klamath Falls has a cogeneration plant already operating that is situated on industrial property and has more than adequate resources that could support the Cob project, and would not generate the degree of opposition currently seen.

One of the issues that continues to be of great concern is that the project would be monitored not in the present, but in the past. As a result the environmental damage that the people of Langell Valley fear is that by the time the agencies are designated to oversee the operational parameters of the project, the damage will have been done.

The reason this is significant is that other Peoples Energy of Chicago projects have received multiple and significant fines for operating outside the parameters specified at the time of approval. All these were for transgressions that occurred after the fact - after the damage to the surrounding areas was done.

Look for a new area

This project is of such a massive size that before granting any approval for locating the largest plant in North America, there needs to be a concerted effort to cross every "t" and dot every "i" to make sure that this site is, and will be, consistent with the pristine Langell Valley, and that inadvertent damage cannot possibly occur. The people who reside there have a right and expectation that acting in their best interest should be the primary and overriding criteria.

Peoples Energy should be required to expend every effort to locate this massive project in an area that is suitable with the intended use. An exclusive farm use zone should be the last place considered, unless there are overriding circumstances not as yet presented for such a location.

The testimony presented so far by Peoples Energy of Chicago has not indicated any reason for the proposed location other than economic advantage for Peoples Energy. That should not be the dictate that drives approval. Certainly the welfare of the people of Langell Valley should be given the weight of their public opinion, and any decision should, and must, be weighted in their favor.




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