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Audubon Society appeals wind farm permit

BISBEE – Arizona Audubon is appealing a recent decision made by the Cochise County Planning and Zoning Commission on the approval of a special use permit for a wind power generation farm between Willcox and Cascabel.

On April 10, the planning commission members heard the request of Red Horse 2, LLC and Torch Renewable Energy, LLC, to build a 28-turbine wind farm located primarily on state trust lands that will produce around 51 megawatts of power on 220 acres. Most of that parcel is located on state trust lands and a small portion of the acreage is on private land. The turbines could be as tall as 497 feet with blades up to 197-feet long.

Though Planning Manager Michael Turisk stated that Audubon Arizona did not offer a comment, according to Huachuca Audubon member Tricia Gerrodette, the organization had not been informed of the plans for a wind farm.

After reading the article in the Herald/Review, Gerrodette said Arizona Audubon strongly disagreed with the commissioners’ decision not to consider the request of Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGF).

In a letter to the commission, Ginger Ritter, AZGF project evaluation program specialist, asked the commissioners to postpone the decision until more data was available on the locations, nesting sites and activities of the golden eagles and long-nosed bats in the vicinity.

She stated in her letter: “It is our understanding that per the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and subsequent guidance drafted by US Fish and Wildlife, the locations of and activities of golden eagles and active nests both on Red Horse Wind and the vicinity may ultimately influence turbine locations, depending on turbine setback recommendations put forth by the Eagle Conservation Plan, which will be developed by the applicant, USFW and Arizona Game and Fish. … After review of the special use permit application and available data on the project, the department recommends postponing approval of the application until more wildlife data is available to assess the applicant’s affects on wildlife populations. If this is not possible, we recommend putting our recommendations as conditions to the permit.”

Arizona Audubon executive director Sarah Porter writes in a letter to the county Board of Supervisors who will hear the appeal, “AZGF noted that data previously collected for the site support the conclusion that an assessment of the project’s risks to wildlife will necessitate studies of the project on avian and bat species. Accordingly, AZGF requested that the Planning and Zoning Commission place stipulations in the permit to ensure that studies are done and appropriate measures taken to mitigate adverse impacts on wildlife. We support this position so all involved can better understand the potential impacts as well as the values of this project … We believe it is in the county’s economic interests to take action on the matter to assure the project’s impacts on wildlife have been assessed and a management plan has been developed. We support renewable energy projects, properly studied and properly mitigated, and that is all we request.”

Porter also noted that most counties add such stipulations, while Cochise County does not.

“Stipulations are very common in Special Use Permits issued by other Arizona counties and are particularly compelled by the circumstances of this case,” noted Porter.

The supervisors is expected to hear the appeal at the Tuesday, June 11 meeting.