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Judges reject Steens Mountain wind project

The Ninth District Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the Oregon Natural Desert Association, and rejected a wind turbine project on Steens Mountain in southeast Oregon.

The 104-megawatt project would have included energy transmission lines that cut across potential sage grouse habitat within the protected Steens Cooperative Project.

Judges rejected the Bureau of Land Management’s earlier approval of the project because the agency didn’t survey habitat to gauge its importance for threatened sage grouse, despite the concern about winter habitat being noted in the government’s environmental impact statement for the project.

The ruling reads:

“Despite this concern, no surveys were conducted to determine if sage grouse are present at the Echanis site during the winter months.”

Brent Fenty, executive director of ONDA, said wind power is a great idea, but Steens is the wrong place for it.

“There are opportunities to site projects throughout the region in areas that have less conflict, both socially and environmentally,” Fenty said. “This was simply a case of picking the wrong place.”

Developers Columbia Energy Partners wanted to place up to 69 turbines on private property, but ONDA argued the transmission lines were a threat to wildlife.

“This project was left over from a time before the BLM and the state of Oregon set guidelines to encourage developers to focus on low-conflict areas and avoid places like the Steens,” said Bob Sallinger, conservation director of the Audubon Society of Portland.

“Today’s decision underlines what BLM should have decided in the first place,” he added.

Neither Columbia Energy nor Harney County, defendant and intervener in the case, could be reached for comment.