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Supervisors settle Altamont bird suit; agreement is inadequate, environmentalists say  

Alameda County Supervisors on Thursday approved a settlement intended to reduce the number of birds killed by Altamont Pass windmills, but not all environmental groups are happy.

The settlement forces the wind industry to commit to a 50 percent reduction in raptor deaths by November 2009, along with removing the deadliest turbines and continuing winter shutdowns of the wind machines.

The supervisors approved the agreement by a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Gail Steele casting the dissenting vote.

The settlement stems from a lawsuit filed against the county in October by the Golden Gate Audubon Society, Californians for Renewable Energy and four other local Audubon chapters. The suit challenged the countys decision to renew permits for Altamont Pass wind turbines that kill hundreds of migrant birds each year.

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

According to the lawsuit alleged the supervisors violated state law by failing to conduct environmental studies of the turbines effects on wildlife.

Jeff Miller from the Center for Biological Diversity said the approved settlement, however, is inadequate.

Miller, who hoped the vote would be put off for several months to allow for more study, said the baseline number of deaths among the four bird species named in the agreement is too high and therefore a 50 percent reduction in that number is not really a huge step forward.

The settlement assumes there are 1,300 golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, American kestrels and burrowing owl deaths in that Livermore area each year. Miller said the settlement should assume a mortality number of 863 among those four species, so the target of 650 deaths a year set by the agreement is not a sharp reduction. He says 1,300 has been the number applied to total bird kills in the wind-farm area, not just to the four named species.

He said the settlement nixes some of the steps the county has made to reduce bird deaths at the Altamont Pass turbines, such as eliminating the scheduled increase in the seasonal shutdown period.

By Chris Metinko
Medianews Staff


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