The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Thursday to approve a settlement that requires industry to take immediate action to reduce the number of birds killed by windmills in the Altamont Pass area.
The proposed settlement stems from a lawsuit filed against Alameda County on Oct. 31, 2005, by the Golden Gate Audubon Society, Californians for Renewable Energy and four other local Audubon chapters.
The suit challenged the county’s decision on Sept. 22, 2005, to renew permits for Altamont Pass wind turbines that kill hundreds of migrating birds each year.
The suit alleged that the Board of Supervisors violated state law by failing to conduct environmental studies of the turbines’ effects on wildlife.
The Golden Gate Audubon Society alleges that the permitted turbines kill up to 4,700 birds annually, including as many as 116 protected golden eagles, and have been doing so for decades.
After the board’s vote, Samantha Murray, Golden Gate Audubon’s conservation director, said, “We think this is a great agreement because we’re getting the same things we wanted back in 2005” when the suit was filed.
It calls for the wind industry to commit to a 50 percent reduction in raptor mortality by November 2009 and to continue winter shutdowns of the turbines.
Murray said the “most egregious” turbines in terms of killing birds would be closed within 30 days. Under the previous agreement with the county, that wouldn’t have happened until 2010, she said.
Murray said the agreement also calls for the next most deadly category of turbines to be removed by November 2008.
However, Richard Wiebe, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, which wasn’t involved in the litigation, told the board that the agreement eliminates most of the meaningful avian mortality mitigation measures currently in place.
To demonstrate his point, he ripped up a copy of the regulations the board approved in 2005.
Wiebe said the parties involved in the agreement “forgot to do their math homework” and he thinks at most the settlement would achieve a 17 percent reduction in bird deaths, not the 50 percent reduction its backers tout.
The agreement is “a giant step backwards,” he said.
But Murray said if the settlement’s goals aren’t achieved, there are mechanisms to tighten up its terms to ensure a significant reduction in bird deaths.
Supervisor Gail Steele, who cast the lone vote against the agreement, said the settlement is extremely complex and “I continue to be unsettled” about all the details involved.
Steele noted that she also cast the lone vote against the 2005 agreement because she didn’t think it went far enough in trying to reduce bird deaths as quickly as possible.
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