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Opponents: wind farm project could hurt sheep

SAN DIEGO – Opponents of a proposed wind farm in Imperial County say the project could end up hurting wildlife that rely on the land to survive.

Peninsular bighorn sheep have been on the endangered species list since 1998, but now they face another challenge: a 12,484-acre wind farm that would encroach on the area where these sheep regularly roam.

Terry Weiner, with the nonprofit group Desert Protective Council, said the sheep are “very sensitive to noise and to disturbance. This will impact their ability to go where they’re used to going.”

In partnership with EastCountyMagazine.com, 10News has learned the proposed Ocotillo Wind Energy Project would be in Imperial County almost entirely on public land near Interstate 8 and bordering Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Federal and state wildlife agencies have raised concerns about the project’s effect on wildlife, including fears about fencing. The agencies are asking that the project “not pose a mortality threat to Peninsular bighorn sheep.”

In a response, the Federal Bureau of Land Management wrote: “… the design of the fencing shall be done in coordination with the Wildlife Agencies.”

The plan is to harness the power of the wind by building more than 100 turbines that would be about 450 feet tall. Pattern Energy has received approval for a 20-year power purchase agreement with San Diego Gas & Electric. Pattern expects to generate enough electricity to power more than 130,000 homes.

Weiner said there are alternative sites and that the proposed wind farm would ruin the pristine beauty of the area, damage air quality and increase noise levels.

“The utter destruction of 20 square miles of public land is what I fear,” she said.

The Federal Bureau of Land Management says it takes the issue very seriously and issued this statement:

“We analyze these projects with full public involvement and are interested in hearing from the public regarding their concerns or issues with this project. We take the responsibility of managing public lands for the benefit of the American people very seriously. The footprint of this proposed project has been modified to avoid impacts to cultural and environmental resources.”

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, Imperial County commissioners will hold a public hearing to discuss the proposed wind farm and whether to issue a conditional-use permit.