BURNS – The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has given the go-ahead for engineering and other surveys along a proposed electrical transmission line route that one day could serve a $300 million wind energy project on picturesque Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon.
But before the BLM construction approval is awarded, the 44-mile-long North Steens Transmission Line has a major hurdle, a court challenge filed April 5 by the Portland Audubon Society and Oregon Natural Desert Association.
The two environmental organizations dislike the aesthetics of placing 40 to 60 huge, rolled-steel wind turbines on the north end of the 9,733-foot fault-block of Steens Mountain. And they say the 415-foot turbines, access roads and associated development would threaten migratory routes and breeding areas for Bighorn sheep, golden eagles and sage-grouse.
Advocates say the project would bring 100 construction jobs and 12 permanent jobs to Harney County and wouldn’t be visible from many areas on and around the mountain. Harney County earlier approved the wind project.
The BLM’s latest action allows engineering and cultural resource surveys and biological assessments, but not groundbreaking or construction.
The transmission line would link the proposed Echanis Wind Energy Project with an existing transmission line owned by Harney Electric Cooperative north of Steens Mountain. It would cross private land and 12 miles of BLM land.
The wind project and transmission line are proposed by Columbia Energy Partners LLC of Vancouver and its affiliate, Echanis LLC. Echanis is one of two wind energy projects proposed on or near the mountain south of Burns. They would generate 104 megawatts each, enough to power about 30,000 homes per project.