April 19, 2017 – Crews are now removing the wind testing meteorological (MET) towers for the Searchlight Wind Project which was proposed to be located on public lands in the Piute Valley about 50 miles south of Las Vegas, Nevada. According to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Las Vegas Field Office, the agency is now in the process of closing the application for the project, 18 months after a federal judge voided the federal approvals for the project because of the likely harm to desert tortoises and golden eagles.
In March 2013, the BLM issued a Record of Decision approving construction of the Searchlight Wind Energy Project. The project would have sited 87 industrial scale wind turbines, each 427 feet tall (about the height of the Palms Hotel), on the ridges and uplands next to the town of Searchlight, Nevada and bordering scenic Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The project would have marred the area’s scenic beauty, threatened the desert tortoise, killed golden eagles, desecrated the view of Spirit Mountain—sacred to Native American Tribes—impacted the historical mining district, and damaged the future tourism potential of the community. The project would have been sited on 9,300 acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The project site borders the Piute-Eldorado Area of Critical Environmental Concern, designated to protect the desert tortoise.
On October 30th, 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du vacated the federal permits for construction of the Searchlight Wind Project in Southern Nevada. Judge Du found that environmental analyses prepared by the BLM and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) inadequately evaluated the dangers that the industrial-scale wind project would pose to desert wildlife. She cited data missing from the agency surveys, inadequate assessment of potential threats to golden eagles, desert tortoises, and bats. The BLM claimed that only 3 golden eagle nests were within 10 miles of the proposed project, but it was later confirmed by the Nevada Division of Wildlife that the number of golden eagle nests was 28.
Kevin Emmerich, CoFounder of Basin and Range Watch, said, “We applaud the Bureau of Land Management for finally putting an end to this ill-sited wind project. There are clearly better alternatives for renewable energy utilizing rooftops and other locations in the built environment that would produce the same amount of megawatts. It is time for the BLM to manage this special location to protect the view-shed, wildlife, property values and cultural resources in a way that will bring tourist dollars to the region. This is no place for industrial scale energy.”
The BLM is considering another large-scale wind energy proposal in this region on over 35,000 acres to the west of the former Searchlight Wind Project. It would be called the Crescent Peak Wind Project and be located right next to the Mojave National Preserve and Castle Mountains National Monument. Basin and Range Watch has requested that the BLM designate the entire region a “Large-Scale Energy Free Zone” in their upcoming Southern Nevada Resource Management Plan.
“If a federal court ruled that there are too many potential harms to build an industrial-scale wind project near Searchlight, surely a far larger project like Crescent Peak with far more impacts should not be developed” said Laura Cunningham, Basin and Range Watch’s Executive Director. BLM expects to publish its Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Crescent Peak project later this year.
Judge Du’s October 30, 2015 order can be viewed here: http://www.basinandrangewatch.org/Searchlight-Order-Granting-Vacatu-10-30-15.pdf
The plaintiffs are represented by Dave Becker, an environmental lawyer from Portland, Oregon, and Jim Boyle of Holley, Driggs, Walch, Fine, Wray, Puzey & Thompson in Las Vegas.
Ninth Circuit Court Dismisses Second Appeal for Controversial Searchlight Wind Project
On October 26th, 2016, the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed an appeal by Apex Clean Energy against the October 30th, 2015, decision by Judge Miranda Du to void the Record of Decision by the Bureau of Land Management to approve the Searchlight Wind Project bordering the town of Searchlight, Nevada and close to National Park Service areas. The case was dismissed over jurisdictional issues.
The Searchlight Wind Energy Project would site 87 industrial scale wind turbines over 400 feet tall, about the height of the Palms Hotel, on the ridges and uplands next to Searchlight, Nevada and bordering scenic Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The project would negatively impact the scenery, threaten the desert tortoise, kill golden eagles, desecrate the view of Spirit Mountain—sacred to Native American Tribes—impact the historical mining district and damage the future tourism potential of the community.
On October 30th, 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du vacated the federal permits for construction of the Searchlight Wind Project in Southern Nevada. Judge Du found that environmental analyses prepared by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) inadequately evaluated the dangers that the industrial-scale wind project would pose to desert wildlife. She cited data missing from the agency surveys, inadequate assessment of potential threats to golden eagles, desert tortoises, and bats, The BLM claimed that only 3 golden eagle nests were within ten miles of the proposed project, but it was later confirmed by the Nevada Division of Wildlife that the number of golden eagle nests was 28.
“This was never a good choice for a wind project location” said Kevin Emmerich, Co-Founder of Basin and Range Watch. “An industrial scale wind energy project in this location would not only impact wildlife, but be visible for many miles at both day and night. The view and quality of life would be degraded for local residents. The project would be visible from 3 different National Park units and Sprit Mountain which is sacred to several Native American tribes in the region. Basin and Range Watch has asked the Bureau of Land Management to designate the entire area “Wind Energy Free”. This would protect wildlife, local residents and cultural values.”
The plaintiffs are Wayne and Judy Bundorf who have resided in the Las Vegas area since the 1960’s and have been employed in the engineering and construction industries. They have frequented the Searchlight area for decades enjoying the desert and Lake Mojave. Ellen Ross, another plaintiff, home owner and realtor has resided in Las Vegas since the 1970’s and frequently hikes and kayaks near Searchlight. Both families purchased desert properties in the early 2000’s for quiet desert landscapes within reasonable proximity to Las Vegas, which is 40 miles north. Basin and Range Watch is a party in this lawsuit, a local desert nonprofit which has made a concerted effort to protect the pristine Mojave Desert. Finally, plaintiff Mojave elder, Ron van Fleet, whose family personal history is embedded within the Searchlight Hills and Cottonwood Cove can attest to the unique history and cultural value of this desert. This pristine desert, with flora and fauna, is a key ingredient with the local people who live here, to be “in nature. ”
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