The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced the beginning of a process to develop a plan to reduce harm to endangered birds by a Humboldt County wind power project.
The agency is asking the public to weigh in on how birds, especially marbled murrelets and northern spotted owls, might be affected by the turbines and other elements of the project on Bear River Ridge outside Ferndale. As part of generating an Environmental Impact Statement and Environmental Impact Report, Fish and Wildlife is also asking for reasonable alternatives for the project.
As proposed, the Shell Wind Energy project consists of 25 ridge-top turbines that can generate up to 50 megawatts, or enough to supply about 1,000 homes. About 5 miles of access roads would be built, three permanent weather towers would be constructed, a power collection system and substation would also be built, and 12 miles of new overhead transmission lines would transfer power from the substation to the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. regional transmission line in Rio Dell.
Shell Wind Energy is developing a Habitat Conservation Plan meant to reduce the risk to protected marbled murrelets, which careen over the ridge at dawn and dusk between old-growth forests in Humboldt Redwoods State Park and the sea. Construction activities could also disrupt threatened northern spotted owls. An Incidental Take Permit would go along with the plan, which would allow the project to harm or kill threatened birds as
long as the plan’s effects are mitigated.
A public scoping effort starts the process under the National Environmental Protection Act.
Fish and Wildlife Acting Endangered Species Arcata Branch Chief James Bond said the notice in the Federal Register this week is the early stages of the effort. Bond said there is no final project description.
He said Fish and Wildlife’s main concerns are for the murrelet, and the agency is considering a variety of construction and operational requirements to prevent harm to the seabirds, especially during the breeding season. That may include reducing the number of turbine towers, moving them, and limiting the hours of operations, he said.
Bond said that Shell Wind Energy has been diligent about pursuing a project that will have few environmental effects.
”They’re really trying to do things up front and do it the right way,” Bond said.
The environmental review will also consider the effects of the wind power project on the yellow-billed cuckoo and the willow flycatcher, as well as its effects on cultural, social and economic resources, water and air quality, and climate change, according to the Federal Register notice.
”DFG has been working closely with the USFWS, Shell Wind, and their consultants for over three years to identify and mitigate environmental impacts from this project”, said California Department of Fish and Game Environmental Scientist Gordon Leppig.
A spokesman for Shell said he could not comment on the project as the team is out for the holiday.
Public meetings will be held in February. They are scheduled for Feb. 2 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the River Lodge in Fortuna and Feb. 3 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Wharfinger Building in Eureka. Written comments can be addressed to James Bond, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1655 Heindon Road, Arcata, CA 95521.
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