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Six-month program to monitor Altamont Pass bird deaths OK'd  

Alameda County supervisors approved the initial phase of a monitoring system that will study the impact the Altamont windmills have on scores of birds – including golden eagles, red tail hawks, burrowing owls and other protected species.

The board unanimously approved the $610,000, six-month program after hesitating in July to support a $3 million, three-year plan to monitor bird deaths in the Altamont. At that July meeting, supervisors agreed to cap the program – to be paid for by the turbine operators in the Altamont – at $2 million, saying costs for the monitoring had spiraled out of control.

The monitoring program will be a collaborative operation of UC Santa Cruz, WEST Inc. and Jones & Stokes, the top three bidders for the project. The group will monitor avian deaths at the 5,400 windmills east of Livermore.

In September, a newly appointed five-member scientific review committee made a recommendation to the supervisors to approve the six-month contract, in an effort to minimize further delays in the study. The committee is expected to give the board a full recommendation on how to proceed with the remaining 30 months left on the monitoring program in January.

A sticking point on how to proceed with the rest of the study may be money. The approved six-month contract eats up nearly a third of the $2 million cap the supervisors approved for the study, with 21/2 years scheduled to be monitored after that.

The cost of the monitoring program played a large role at the July public hearing, when supervisors and attorneys for the windmill operators questioned the rising cost of such a program. County Supervisor Scott Haggerty pointed out that one of the leading bids had originally come in at approximately $1.4 million – half of what was being asked for in July.

According to a study released in 2004 by the California Energy Commission, an estimated 1,700 to 4,700 birds die each year by flying into whirring turbine blades or being electrocuted by transmission lines that thread through the 50,000-acre Altamont Wind Resource Area.

By Chris Metinko, Contra Costa Times
Reach Chris Metinko at 510-763-5418 or cmetinko@cctimes.com.


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