It’s full-steam-ahead for the Lompoc wind farm after Santa Barbara County Supervisors once again dismissed the objections of a family that lives next door to the historic alternative energy undertaking. The Bedford clan, whose 425-acre Miguelito Canyon property is bordered on three sides by the 65-turbine project, was before the board on Tuesday afternoon calling foul about plans to extend the life and height of temporary meteorological towers currently onsite, and the potential impact these structures would have on birds and bats if allowed to increase in size. Alone in their struggle, the family’s pleas fell on sympathetic though ultimately deaf ears as the board voted 4-0 to reject their appeal. “I appreciate [the Bedfords’] concerns,” explained Doreen Farr, “but I see these changes as minor, and I don’t see any reason not to deny this appeal and go forward with the project.”
The first of its kind to gain approval in the county when it was supported unanimously by the supes in early February, the wind farm-implemented by international purveyors of alternative power Acciona Energy -promises to harness enough breeze from the agricultural land roughly six miles southwest of Lompoc to power some 50,000 homes every year. However, the perceived eyesore and the unavoidable deadly impact that the whirling turbines will have on bird and bat populations have been a bitter pill to swallow for the Bedford family since the project first began running the approval gauntlet more than a year ago. While other parties concerned with the farm for similar reasons (such as the California Department of Fish and Game and the Audubon Society) have since been placated by mitigation measures laid out in the plan’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR), the Bedfords’ resolve to derail the wind farm has remained. Besides this week’s appeal, the family-who most likely will be roughly a half-mile from the closest wind turbine-is also suing the county for its approval of the project last winter on the grounds that the EIR is inadequate and that the plan itself violates the county’s General Plan. Testifying before the board this week, George Bedford opined, “We continue to see this thing as the county doing an on-the-fly EIR. It is very frustrating what is going on out there.”
At the crux of this week’s debate was a unanimous vote by the county’s Planning Commission in mid July to amend the land-use permit governing the project so that the removal dates of the eight temporary meteorological towers currently onsite be extended at least 90 days (and in some cases, by more than a year), two of the towers be allowed to grow in height from 60 to 80 meters, and the 10 approved 80-meter permanent weather towers be reduced to just one full-time 30-meter tower. In the Bedfords’ opinion, the taller, temporary towers would provide a higher degree of risk for flying creatures not considered in the original EIR document, and that the vote to approve the permit changes was misinformed. “There are some magnificent creatures up there, and we are trying to protect them,” said Cheryl Bedford. “If you raise these towers and put the wires and lights on them-that action will kill.” It should be noted, however, that the California Department of Fish and Game-the agency that the Bedfords repeatedly cited as motivating their concerns about the temporary towers-did not support or defend the Bedfords’ claims. Acciona spokesperson Harley McDonald opted to remain mostly quiet this week in opposition of the Bedfords’ latest appeal, offering simply to answer questions from county staff and stating that “in the past few weeks,” her company has already removed five of the temporary “met towers” being debated. Even with their latest defeat, the Bedfords remain tentatively scheduled to have their day in court in December at the Santa Barbara Superior Courthouse.