Garfield County marks start of wind project

The project, combined with Hopkins Ridge, will generate electricity for 150,000 households.

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POMEROY - As the Pomeroy School Band played "The Star-Spangled Banner" a breeze unfurled the American flag hanging between the band and the speaker's stand. An estimated 400 people stood at attention in the Garfield County Fairgrounds grandstand and on the lawn.

Against a backdrop of the lush green of a field and the rich golden brown hillside, speakers stood on the back of a 1934 Ford truck and praised the community spirit of Garfield County and the boon the Lower Snake River Wind Project will be to the county.

Garfield County Commissioner Dean Burton set a light tone for the ground-breaking ceremony Thursday when he pointed out the cloudless sky and warm day, telling Puget Sound Energy officials who had come from the Seattle area for the event this was a "typical Garfield County October afternoon."

Pomeroy Elementary School third- and fourth-graders watched the event from the grass in front of the grandstand, and Burton addressed them when he said "for this next generation we're going to harvest the wind."

The youngsters had made and decorated wind socks, which fluttered behind the speakers and along the chain link fence, flanking a Puget Sound Energy banner.

Burton thanked PSE for coming to Garfield County. "Now we are tied more than ever with the west side of the state," he said.

Burton was back on the podium with PSE President Kimberly Harris when she presented him with an oversized check for $10,000 from the PSE Foundation to help with the restoration of the Courthouse, which is now under way. In turn, Burton gave Harris a picture of the Courthouse, presented in a frame he made.

Harris told the crowd the first phase of the Lower Snake River Wind Project, combined with PSE's Hopkins Ridge Project, will have the capacity to generate electricity for 150,000 households.

She thanked local officials and residents for their openness to the projects. "You have allowed us to build our turbines on your land," she said.

Phase I of the project will bring 149 wind turbines to the county, each with 2.3 megawatts of generating capacity. Phase I is scheduled to be operational in 2012.

The project will mean 150 jobs in the county during the construction phase, and 25 permanent jobs, Harris said. It will also increase tax revenues.

After the ceremony, Burton said he doesn't have solid evidence that the project is already benefiting the county, but "what I do know is the grocery store, fuel distributors, rental business are all seeing an increase in business. It has made a terrific impact."

Carrie Chicken can be reached at cec@innw.net or 522-5289.

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