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Hearing on OPALCO's Bailer Hill Microgrid project delayed

The public hearing  before the hearing examiner for OPALCO’s Bailer Hill micro-grid and battery installation project has been postponed by San Juan County’s Department of Community Development (DCD). Additional information was requested of the applicant on March 28, 2024. The date of the postponed hearing is to be determined (TBD). 

Written public comment will continue to be accepted by the department, however the Hearing Examiner will not be able to open the record for verbal public testimony on April 24, 2024. Once DCD receives enough information to complete SEPA determination and continue with the review process, a new hearing date will be published where verbal testimony will be accepted.

Why is the hearing postponed?

DCD initially published a notice of application (with the expected Hearing Examiner Meeting date) on March 12 and 13. On March 28, DCD staff requested additional information from OPALCO based on comments received as of March 12, third party review received as of March 18, and recent SEPA review findings. 

Between Wednesday, April 3 and Friday, April 12, OPALCO and DCD discussed reasonable timelines and procedural requirements related to the initially scheduled hearing date. OPALCO and DCD agreed to postpone the hearing without a specific rescheduling date while OPALCO gathers documentation in response to all items raised in the March 28 correspondence. 

How does postponing impact public engagement?

Written public comment opened on March 13 and continues to be accepted for this project (see comments submitted as of April 3, 2024). Please continue to send public comments to marcs@sanjuancountywa.gov

Anyone expecting to make verbal public testimony for this project on April 24, 2024 will need to wait until the hearing is rescheduled. Project documents will continue to be posted for public review using the links and references in this news flash (below).

How will I know when the hearing is rescheduled for?

Once outstanding requests for additional information have been sufficiently addressed, a new notice will be published in print as required by County Code. 

An updated Summary of Important Information and Resources is available at the bottom of this news flash. Also, the original release has been corrected regarding what ‘SEPA’ stands for. ‘SEPA’ is an acronym for State Environmental Policy Act.


ORIGINAL RELEASE 

SAN JUAN COUNTY, WA. March 22, 2024 – San Juan County’s Department of Community Development (DCD) received an application from OPALCO for a conditional use permit (CUP) for a microgrid and battery installation project at the corner of Douglas Rd and Bailer Hill Rd. CUPs are a regulated process governed by the County Code and are subject to public comments and quasi-judicial review by a Hearing Examiner (a person contracted by the County to make land use decisions and hear appeals). DCD will review the application and prepare a report for the County Hearing Examiner who will convene a public hearing and make the final decision on the project application based on the County Code. Members of the public interested in engaging in the County’s review of OPALCO’s project can use this guide to find:

  • A brief overview of OPALCO's proposed project
  • How San Juan County’s permit review process works
  • The project’s current review status
  • A summary of information and links to important resources and contact information

What is the project?

OPALCO has applied for a conditional use permit (CUP) to install solar panels across parcel 352713002000, located at the corner of Douglas Rd and Bailer Hill Rd. The parcel is designated Agricultural Resource. OPALCO indicates the project will allow for livestock grazing around and underneath its panels ensuring that agriculture use is viable after installation. A small portion of the lot will house a battery energy storage system (or BESS). Livestock would not have access to this area.

OPALCO has provided the following documentation to the County:  Project narrative and site plans, SEPA checklist, critical area documentation, stormwater report, clearing and grading application, electromagnetic field (EMF) density report, farmland evaluation and assessment, visual impact assessment, and responses to staff inquiries (through February 8, 2024). All of which are available to the public.

Additional information may be required during the permit review process and will be made available to the public.

Why has OPALCO applied for a conditional use permit for this project? Why can the public comment on it? 

The project is a commercial power-generation facility, which requires a conditional use permit to allow its development in parcels designated Agricultural (or ‘AG’). OPALCO completed its final application in September of 2023, though additional requests for information were not completely addressed again until February 6, 2024.

The County’s Department of Community Development (DCD) reviews CUPs and prepares a staff report for the Hearing Examiner (HEX) who convenes a public hearing to review and take testimony on the project. The HEX takes all testimony into consideration in their review and ruling on the project.

How can the public submit comments on OPALCO’s conditional use permit? 

The public has several opportunities to comment on the project. Contact information for submitting comments is specified at the bottom of this message.

Public Comment Period: The public comment period began on Wednesday, March 13, 2024. Any member of the public is welcome to provide a written comment to DCD about the project. To ensure the smooth administration of the project, interested parties should request in writing a copy of the Hearing Examiner’s decision.

Public comments received prior to April 3, 2024, will be addressed in a staff report to the HEX. Any public comments submitted after April 3 up until the hearing examiner meeting (during which the public may still provide comment) will be included for the record at the time of the meeting.

SJCC 18.80.140 requires that appeals of HEX decisions must be filed within 21 days of the publication of the appealed decision.

SEPA Comment Period: ‘SEPA’ stands for State Environmental Policy Act and this regulation has a specific comment period and appeal process depending on the SEPA threshold determination for the project. SEPA review for the project has been ongoing since the application was initially deemed complete. The threshold determination will be published in the newspaper and Washington State SEPA Register. The determination letter will have the specifics concerning SEPA comment period and SEPA appeal process.

Public Hearing Examiner Meeting: After DCD staff and the applicant provide their testimony for the record, members of the public will have an opportunity to present public testimony (written or verbal) about the proposed project.  The meeting will be available in person and streamed online.

Rules for conduct during a hearing examiner meeting are outlined in SJCC 2.22.200-2.22.240.

What is the current review status?

On March 13, 2024, the notice of application was published. A SEPA determination has not been issued yet. A notice of the threshold determination shall be published in the Journal and the Sounder.

The final decision on the project application will be made by the County Hearing Examiner after the public hearing. The decision will be based on the County Code. Important dates (such as the proposed hearing examiner meeting date) are posted below in the summary of important information and resources.

Summary of Important Information and Resources (updated 4/15/24)

  • Project Overview
    1. Short Title: Bailer Hill Solar Microgrid & Battery Storage (CUP)
    2. Permit file number: LANDUSE-23-0122
    3. Applicant: Orcas Power and Light Cooperative (OPALCO)
    4. Location: TPN 352713002000; San Juan Island, parcel northwest of the corner of Douglas Rd and Bailer Hill Rd
  • Important Project Documents
    1. General Documentation: Permit Review Portal for LANDUSE-23-0122; see below for specific links to:
      • Initial application submittal- LANDUSE-23-0122_OPALCO_Cond Use_Solar Farm_Scanned_App.pdf
      • Revised application documents as of February 21, 2024- LANDUSE-23-0122_OPALCO_Request-for-Review-Signed.pdf
      • Notice of Application documentation- TBD; A new notice will be issued once there is sufficient information to finalize a SEPA determination
      • Comments:
        • Request for Review Comments
        • Public comments collected from March 13-April 3, 2024 (written comments continue to be collected by DCD)
        • Important Dates of Note
          1. Written public comments due by: April 3, 2024
            • Comments submitted after April 3rd will be accepted and presented at the hearing examiner meeting up until the date of the hearing examiner meeting
          2. SEPA comments due by: TBD
          3. Proposed Hearing Examiner date: TBD
            • If there is any change in the date it shall be posted in the appropriate newspapers
            • Hearing Examiner agendas (which include links to live web-streaming) may be viewed via the online Agenda Center when published
        • Public Comment Contact Information
          1. Email:
          2. Letter: 
            • San Juan County RE: LANDUSE-23-0122 OPALCO Microgrid
               Community Development
               P.O. Box 947
               Friday Harbor, WA 98250

        About San Juan County’s Department of Community Development 

        San Juan County’s Department of Community Development is responsible for building permits and inspections, code enforcement, land use designations, long range planning, and more. The department’s main office is located at 135 Rhone Street, Friday Harbor, WA 98250. For more information about San Juan County’s Department of Community Development, visit www.sanjuanco.com/1778/Community-Development.

         

         

         

         

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