One of the Magic Valley’s largest energy projects should cross a significant hurdle today with the release of a draft environmental analysis of its effects. The next step requires your help.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management first gathered public input on the proposed China Mountain wind project in mid-2008. That initial step became the 1,200-page document announced today in the Federal Register.
Renewable Energy Systems Americas wants to build up to 170 wind turbines along a stretch of Brown’s Bench, southwest of Rogerson. The company says the site would generate as much as 400 megawatts of electricity – the first 200 MW of which are slated for a Nevada utility – and create jobs and millions of dollars of other economic benefits during construction and throughout its 25-year lifespan.
The BLM analyzed nine alternatives for development – doing nothing, building the project as proposed, and a variety of options in-between – but has not picked one as a preferred option for the draft document. The work was carried out by two BLM offices in Idaho and Nevada, led by the Jarbidge Field Office in the southwestern Magic Valley.
The federal analysis highlights several potential adverse effects of the project and ways to counter them. Likely the most significant is to wildlife:
• The proposed project site covers key habitat for the greater sage-grouse, a candidate species for federal protection and already suffering in the area due to massive wildfires and other threats. While RES representatives say no active sage grouse breeding grounds are located within the project zone, the environmental analysis says the construction process and the finished turbines have potential to cause a number of ill effects: causing grouse to avoid the area, interfering with breeding and nesting, creating more perches for predators, increasing the number of collision hazards for the birds, and further fragmenting their territory.
• The visual aesthetics of the ridge holding the turbines could be affected to various degrees, depending on where viewers observe it from. The turbines would likely stand out to people at Lud Drexler Park at Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir, for example.
• Turbine construction could also affect cultural resources, treaty rights or interests of American Indian tribes, and the ability to fight wildfires around the turbines, among other things.
Complicating matters, the China Mountain review is interwoven with two other documents: a pending update to the BLM’s Jarbidge Resource Management Plan, and a $16 million grouse conservation plan developed by RES Americas to make up for the effects of its project.
These conclusions are not final, and in fact, the BLM now wants to hear from you. Today marks the start of a 90-day comment period during which the agency will gather input on what information it may have missed – other research, factual mistakes, alternate solutions and analytical flaws. The agency will also take comments during upcoming public meetings, to be announced at a later date.
The BLM asks that comments be as specific as possible, mentioning particular pages, sections or chapters. Only “substantive” comments will be used in the final version of the analysis. For more information, read the draft review here – or contact project manager Scott Barker, 735-2072.
For more on this story, read Saturday’s Times-News.
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