Can you really understand the Cat Creek Energy project just by reviewing the 10,000 or so documents created by the numerous hearings and meetings? Could you afford to obtain all the documents related to this complex project? Keep in mind, you’ll probably be charged $3,000+ just to get the digital files. With that said …
The Elmore County Commissioners just gave the Cat Creek Energy lawyers another six months to hammer out a water diversion and delivery agreement with the county for this ill-advised and ill-conceived project. And during that Dec. 14, 2018 hearing the history of the project became even more complex.
After years of backroom dealings, legal wrangling, last minute changes, hearings, and deliberations, we don’t know how many documents currently make up the history of the proposed Cat Creek Energy project slated for our nearby backcountry. No one knows how many pages of documentation has been created in a vain attempt to get approval for this project. And that is a problem.
The project? Just 20 mile or so up Highway 20, outside of Mountain Home, Idaho, a Gooding-based corporation plans to construct a 5,750-acre mega-energy project that also includes the construction of a 170,000 solar panel energy plant.
Two years ago, in November 2016, the county commissions figured there were 8,000 pages of testimony already in existence. One month ago, in November 2018, an Elmore County Commissioner testified again that there were still about 8,000 pages of testimony and evidence. We believe there is likely much more documentation and there is just too much information lying around in boxes within county offices to allow the Cat Creek Energy project to move forward.
The public, the commissioners and likely even the developers are a little confused as to how this project will move forward without harming the residents of Elmore County. And we think it important that the people who will be greatly affected by the project’s 500-foot tall wind turbines, a 590 acres of solar panels, countless high tension electrical transmission lines and an Anderson Ranch draining reservoir to understand its long and complex history.
So, here is a shortened version …
Part 1: 2016 – Feb 2018 History of the Cat Creek Energy Project
In 2016, Cat Creek Energy, LLC submitted five Conditional Use Permit (“CUP”) applications to Elmore County for various projects in the County’s Agriculture and Area of Critical Concern Overlay Zones. The projects include the installation of:
1. Transmission lines (“CUP-2015-03”);
2. Pump storage hydro-electrical generating facility (“CUP-2015-04”);
3. PV solar electrical generating facility (“CUP-2015-05”);
4. Wind turbine electrical generating facility (“CUP-2015-06”); and
5. Substation (“CUP-2015-07”), (collectively the “CUPs”)
The projects are collectively referred to herein as the “Proposed Development.”
June 15, 2016 / July 13, 2016: The CUPs came before the Planning and Zoning Commission of Elmore County, Idaho (the “Commission”) on June 15, 2016, for a public hearing, and on July 13, 2016, for deliberation. Evidence was presented to the Commission that the CUPs were in conflict with the Comprehensive Plan of Elmore County and would have a negative impact on the “surrounding area.”
July 13, 2016: After finding that the CUPs were dependent on each other and could not exist separately, the Planning and Zoning “Commission” of Elmore County, denied the approval of the CUPs.
In its Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order, the “Commission” found, among other things, that the issuance (or approval ) of the CUPs would have a negative impact on the surrounding area as well as other properties in the area. Approval would have a negative effect on the scenic characteristics and visual aspects of the area.
Summer 2016: Cat Creek appealed the Commission’s Decision to the Elmore Board of County Commissioners (“Board” or BOCC).
November 16, 2016: The “Board” held a hearing on the appeal of the Commission’s Decision on November 16, 2016, at which time Cat Creek presented new evidence for the first time that materially changed Cat Creek’s applications for the CUPs, including a new master site plan of the integrated Proposed Developments. This new evidence was not properly noticed as part of the hearing.
January 13, 2017, February 3, 2017, and February 10, 2017: The “Board” / BOCC held deliberations on the appeal of the Commission’s Decision on January 13, 2017, February 3, 2017, and February 10, 2017.
During the deliberations on February 10, 2017, the Board issued its lengthy Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order (February 2017 Order”), which had obviously been prepared prior to the February 10, 2017 “deliberations”.
In its February 2017 Order, the Board affirmed the Planning and Zoning Commission’s finding that the five separate CUPs were dependent on each other and could not exist separately.
However, the BOCC reversed the Commission’s Decision and provisionally approved the CUPs subject to certain conditions that had to be satisfied by the Developer before construction of the Proposed Development.
The “Board of County Commissioners retained jurisdiction of the conditional use permit application process and as a condition for the approval of the CUPs, required the execution and recordation of a “Development Agreement” by and between the County, Cat Creek, and the entities owning the land (“Landowners”) where the Proposed Development was to be located.
The February 2017 Order expressly provides that the Developer could not proceed with the Proposed Development until the Development Agreement was executed between Cat Creek, the County, and the Landowners, and recorded in Elmore County.
January 2017 through February 9, 2018
Over the course of approximately one year, Cat Creek, the County, and the Landowners met on several occasions to draft, discuss and negotiate the terms of the Development Agreement.
The Development Agreement was signed by Cat Creek, the Landowners and the Elmore County Commissioners on February 9, 2018, and recorded on the same date.
The Development Agreement that was approved materially altered the terms and conditions of the CUPs that were approved in the February 2017 Order. The material alterations include:
- A new master site plan that was never presented to the public for consideration.
- The Development Agreement that was executed and recorded excludes the terms and provisions for the hydro component—CUP 2015-04, for the diversion and delivery of water by the Developer to the County, which is a major component of the Proposed Development.