The Ashland City Council remains interested in the possibility of a solar farm on the Imperatrice Ranch Property as one of the possibilities to move forward and meet the goals of their adopted “10 by 20” program which calls for Ashland to get 10 percent of its power from renewable local energy sources by the year 2020.

Council directed staff to continue researching options at its study session on Monday.

City staff has been asked to bring possibilities forward for the property many times since its purchase in 1996. The property consists of 846 acres east of Interstate 5, purchased to serve as a treated effluent drain field. It came about after a warning from the Department of Environmental Quality that the water being drained into Bear Creek was harmful to fish.

Since that time the city has worked to create cooling ponds and mitigate the issue, meaning the property is no longer needed for the purpose for which it was purchased.

At Monday’s study session, the council once again heard a solar array on the property is among the possibilities to satisfy the 10-by-20 requirements. “If we don’t do this we will not be able to meet that goal,” said Assistant City Administrator Adam Hanks.

He admitted there are obstacles. The Bonneville Power Administration from whom the city buys power will charge Ashland for power use through 2028 even if Ashland uses solar power from the Imperatrice site to reduce the power it gets from BPA.

There are potential land use issues as well. City Attorney Dave Lohman suggested the city hire an additional lawyer. “My thinking would be we need to get an attorney on it who has dealt with this before because there may be land use issues.”

The area is home to numerous species, including 38 native plant types of the 55 present identified on the site. The city has also discussed creating an easement for trails and park use to connect the Grizzly Peak trail, and land conservancies have expressed interest in preserving the property.

“This project has never had majority support,” said Councilor Greg Lemhouse of the potential solar farm. “We’re hearing about major barriers. It’s like a willful ignorance on the issues.” He told his fellow councilors the hurdles are too great to create a solar field there, saying “I think we need to stop trying to breathe life into this project.”

Despite the concerns expressed by Lemhouse, the council agreed that city staff should continue looking at the application process with Pacific Power and Jackson County on land use issues and solar connectivity. The staff estimated the cost of continuing the process would be less than $10,000 in staff time.

They also will consider the term “local” in the ordinance and consider expanding that outside of the city to partner with a clean energy source in the area after Councilor Stefani Seffinger asked, “Is there a regional option?”

Councilors also directed the staff to bring back more specific possibilities on getting closer to the goal without the solar field. Those options include partnering locally with others using non-fossil fuel based alternatives, including entering into co-ops.

Councilors agreed to hear more after staff conducts specific research on what it would take to make the solar field viable, as well as alternatives to coming close to the goal without it.

The study session also include a suggestion by Councilor Dennis Slattery to create an Indigenous People’s day to be marked on what's traditionally Columbus Day. “We would recognize the contributions of people in our area,” said Slattery, who was checking to see if there was support in moving forward on the idea. He found that support and, additionally, Councilor Seffinger requested the council draft a resolution asking the county to rename “Dead Indian Memorial Road.” Councilors agreed that, too, would be appropriate.

— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.