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Cob plant backers stumble badly

Published August 26, 2004

Public officials associated with the Cob generating plant proposed for land near Bonanza need to get their act together. So does Peoples Energy, the Chicago firm which wants to build the plant.

The proposed 1,150-megawatt plant would burn natural gas to produce electricity. Peoples Energy was attracted to the Bonanza-area site because it was close to a natural gas compression station, and major power and gas lines.

Klamath County needs the economic development that comes with such plants, but in recent days supporters and developers have become their own worst enemies.

For example, someone surely should have done a better job getting the Klamath Falls City Council prepped for its Aug. 16 discussion of the proposal to stretch an enterprise zone from Klamath Falls to Bonanza to make the $679-million power plant eligible for tax incentives.

Council members had more questions than were answered by the five-page information packet distributed to council members shortly before the meeting. Since only three of the five council members were present, the council decided after listening to a lengthy discussion to defer the matter to the Sept. 20 meeting.

About 20 opponents of the plant spoke at the Aug. 16 meeting, and derided Rob Trotta, the public representative for Peoples Energy, who has been handling the three-year effort to build the plant.

This week it was announced that Trotta is gone. His company said that his three-year employment contract had ended, and he was now working part time and returning to graduate school. The company's new representative is Paul Turner. Turner was Trotta's boss and said Trotta's leaving had nothing to do with his difficulties at the Aug. 16 meeting.

Putting a new person in charge is a good move. Trotta had rubbed too many people the wrong way.

Turner also said the company could improve its offer to make payments in lieu of property taxes. That would be another good move.

Also getting a black eye over the power plant proposal were two Klamath County commissioners, when it was revealed by a state official that the county could have been more involved in the state's siting process if it had wanted to. Commissioners Al Switzer and John Elliott have favored the plant. Commissioner Steve West is opposed.

Switzer defended the county's work on the power plant and said at a county commission meeting this week that many of the county's land-use rules had been incorporated into the process.

"There are 50 to 75 pages of Klamath County land use plan in the (Oregon Department of Energy's) order," Switzer said.

Switzer also deserves credit for getting Peoples Energy to change the plant from a water-cooled to an air-cooled process, which greatly lessened concerns about water.

But given the magnitude of the plant and the hostility of the site's neighbors, there should not have been any opportunity lost for the county to be involved, even those that the county commission majority regards as largely irrelevant. A Herald and News interview this week with Cathy Van Horn, a state analyst intensely involved in the process, made clear that the county has missed chances. Whatever chances are left, it needs to be fully engaged.

As for Peoples Energy, it has traded one lightning rod for another - Turner now playing for Trotta. But this issue was not just personal, and the change doesn't resolve it.

The "H&N view" represents the opinion of the newspaper's editorial board. Pat Bushey wrote today's editorial. His phone number is 885-4479.


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