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ELKO – Blame it on the sage grouse.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is deferring a decision on the China Mountain Wind Project that would straddle the Elko County and Idaho border for two years because of impact to the sage grouse.
David Overcast, the Tuscarora Field Office manager for the Elko BLM District, told Elko County Commissioners Wednesday the BLM district in Idaho that is leading the project and the Elko BLM District decided to wait on a decision.
“It’s an important area,” he said, reporting that 42 percent of the sage grouse population in a management area is within the proposed project site, so the decision will await the BLM’s completion of environmental impact statements on conserving the sage grouse to prevent its listing as an endangered species.
The decision also is being delayed until the Idaho district completes a land-use plan, Overcast told commissioners, who voted to send a letter of protest.
Commissioner Charlie Myers said in his motion the letter should express the county’s displeasure with the decision because of economic impacts to the county, and protest that the decision was made without public input under the BLM’s new interim policies for conserving the sage grouse.
“I am not happy with the decision. It appears to me the company worked hard to mitigate the issue of the sage grouse,” Myers said.
He said with the economy like it is outside Elko, which has benefited from a mining boom, the project that would bring construction jobs to Idaho and Elko County could be killed by a “stupid bird. That really concerns me.”
RES America Developments Inc. proposed the China Mountain Project to provide electricity to buyers that will include NV Energy.
Suzanne Leta Liou, development manager for the company, said late Wednesday afternoon she was unable to comment on the BLM’s decision.
Liou said at an open house in Elko last year that the $500 million first phase would provide roughly 750 construction jobs and up to 50 permanent jobs.
She also said then the full project would provide $18.8 million in property taxes on the Nevada side, with $7.6 million going to the state and the remainder to Elko County.
The company said it planned to install 87 turbines in the first phase of the project to produce 200 megawatts for NV Energy.
“We knew you would be concerned, and I will carry your concerns forward,” Overcast said.
He said the BLM and wildlife officials looked at a variety of options before deciding to defer the project, and followed the criteria in the new interim policy regarding renewable energy projects.
“We’re all just pawns in this thing,” said Commissioner Glen Guttry, who chaired the meeting as vice chairman in the absence of Chairman Jeff Williams.
Guttry said even if the BLM, states and citizens avoid the listing of the sage grouse, those who want to alter the Western way of life will “find another critter” to propose for listing.
“I have no animosity to you folks, you’re doing the best you can, but this is very disappointing for the county,” Guttry told Overcast.
“Citizens need to understand the actual cost of deferment because of the threat to the bird,” Commissioner Demar Dahl said.
Commissioners were already upset with the national BLM for issuing the interim policy on management of the sage grouse late last year without public comment, and the use of the policy to defer the China Mountain proposal added to their concerns.
Myers said no one from Elko County was at the table when the decision came down on China Mountain.
“I can almost guarantee that the wind project won’t happen,” he said.
The BLM has already completed a draft environmental impact statement on the China Mountain proposal but hadn’t yet issued the final study and record of decision, so in that respect there has been public comment, Overcast said outside the meeting chambers.
He said wildlife agencies commented in the draft EIS that the project would have a big impact on the sage grouse.
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