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http://www.heraldandnews.com/articles/2004/01/23/news/top_stories/top1.txt
Views differ on power plant

Roger Hamilton makes comments in opposition to the proposed Cob Energy Facility during a public hearing Thursday in Lorella. Speakers at the hearing in Lorella held by the Oregon Department of Energy were overwhelmingly against the Cob project.

Published Jan. 23, 2004

By BROOK REINHARD

If you dropped by the Lorella Community Hall on Thursday afternoon, you were likely to get an earful from farmers and neighbors, who showed up to oppose the proposed 1,130-megawatt power plant that could be built in their backyard.

"The reason I settled in the Langell Valley 31 years ago was to get away from that kind of development," former Klamath County commissioner and former public utility commissioner Roger Hamilton said. "In our infatuation with electric competition we forgot that it really matters where you put these places."

If you went to a hearing Thursday evening at the Klamath County Fairgrounds, you would have heard an even mix of "yes" and "no," as the power plant advocates shared the spotlight with the plant's detractors.

"Progress and change is sometimes hard to understand and agree with," said Hank Mroczkowski, a carpenter who lives on Harpold Road, near the project site. But, he said, "I don't see how it's going to hurt the environment out there or the wildlife they adjust, just like we adjust."

The two public hearings were held by the Oregon Department of Energy, and are a key part of the process that leads to a decision by the state Energy Facility Siting Council. That's a panel of seven members appointed by the governor to determine whether proposed power plants meet state rules on land use, pollution and water use.

As a consequence, much of the emotional testimony of previous Cob hearings gave way to line-by-line commentary on the department's draft recommendation to approve the siting.

At the evening hearing, Langell Valley resident Gail Whitsett spent about 25 minutes detailing errors in the draft, including a missing sentence and period out of place.

She said the plant would be built on shaky ground - "directly over one of the largest faults we've ever seen."

Asked later about that possibility, Cob spokesman Rob Trotta said the facility would be designed to withstand earthquakes.

Detail marked much of the testimony from Cob opponents. As they have in previous forums, proponents talked about construction jobs, economic revitalization and power supplies.

In Lorella, a small community nine miles east of Bonanza, pickup trucks circled the community hall's parking lot, while men in baseball caps or union T-shirts took cigarette breaks outside.

Inside, Trotta munched on a sub sandwich near the back of the room, while union members clustered in one corner and power-plant opponents spread across the hall in metal folding chairs and wooden pews.

Cob opponents such as Save Our Rural Oregon members Diana Giordano and Lyn Brock also pointed out what they called water and land-use errors in the draft.

Water For Life President Doug Whitsett said the Cob case could be setting a dangerous precedent for water law in Oregon.

Some of the Langell and Poe valley residents continued to express outrage that a plant would be built in their farming community.

"Why in the world are we considering a power plant that wouldn't benefit this area?" Paul Stricklen said. "There's a power grid, yes there is. There's a gas line, yes there is. But the energy source for the Cob isn't just here. The energy grid and gas lines are also down south where the customers are. Put it there."

Trotta said later that day his company had already spent more than $6 million on consultants in considering the site near Bonanza. But even if someone could give him the money back, he said he'd want to build the plant at the current location.

"I covered the Pacific Northwest aggressively before I found this site," he said. "This is a winner."

Nearly 30 people commented on the project at the Lorella meeting. All but five were against the plant.

Those who spoke in favor said power plant opponents didn't grasp what benefits the Cob could bring.

"I've worked all over the country (on power plants,) and I'd say there's a lot of money that's pumped back into these community," Ironworkers Local No. 29 organizer Tom Rios said. "Once this plant is up and running a year, you're not gonna hear from these people. I don't believe it will be an issue. I know it, from experience."

The Thursday evening meeting at the fairgrounds in Klamath Falls drew more speakers like Rios but a smaller crowd overall. While roughly 70 people packed Lorella's hall, about half that came to the fairgrounds event, and the arguments were unchanged.

Outside the evening meeting, Brock predicted that the state panel would approve the site, but she said the opponents of the Cob will fight the project as long as they can.

"I think the siting council will approve it," she said. "But then we can take our case to the (Oregon) Supreme Court."

People can submit comments about the plant by getting them to the Oregon Department of Energy by Feb. 5.

On Feb. 13, the Energy Facility Siting Council is to read the draft and comment to its staff. The Department of Energy supplies staff to the council.

The department can then revise its draft. That document will be at the center of a second hearings process, a quasi-legal proceeding called a "contested case." A hearings officer will make a report to the siting council, followed by a final recommendation from the Energy Department and a final decision by the council.

Reporter Brook Reinhard covers local government. He can be reached at 885-4415 or (800) 275-0982, or by e-mail at breinhard@heraldandnews.com.



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