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‘Find another location.’ Public raises concerns about wind project

TWIN FALLS – More than 100 people attended an online meeting about the Lava Ridge Wind Project and submitted more than 80 comments and questions Wednesday. Participants had concerns over potential impacts to historical sites and avian species were addressed. The site has the potential to impact Minidoka National Historic Site, a former internment camp during World War II.

The second online meeting will be from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. today. Anyone interested in attending can register on the project BLM website page.

The proposed project would consist of a series of corridors located within Lincoln, Jerome and Minidoka Counties. The corridors are about a half-mile wide and span about 76,000 acres, according to the BLM. The site would include up to 400 turbines with heights ranging from 460 to 740 feet.

The public scoping period is one of the first stages in the process. The BLM will accept comments on what the EIS should cover until Sept. 20. After that period a draft EIS will be created and is expected to be released in the summer of 2022.

The public is also invited to attend an open house held by Magic Valley Energy on Sept. 15 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Renew Coffee Shop located at 111 E. Main St. in Jerome.

At Wednesday’s meeting, representatives from the BLM, Magic Valley Energy, and SWCA Environmental Consultants, answered questions from the public using a chat feature.

Magic Valley Energy, an affiliate of LS Power, is the owner of the project. The BLM is involved because the proposed site is on public lands managed by the Shoshone Field Office and SWCA Environmental Consultants are supporting the BLM in creating the Environmental Impact Statement.

Environmental Impact Statements are required under the National Environmental Policy Act for any major federal actions that may have a significant effect on the environment. The final EIS will analyze potential impacts and help the BLM make informed decisions.

“The BLM must decide whether, how, and under what conditions to authorize Magic Valley Energy’s proposed action while supporting resource goals and objectives,” the BLM wrote in a public scoping document.

Issues for analysis

The BLM has identified the following categories as preliminary issues for analysis: socioeconomics, land use, transportation, recreation, soils and vegetation, livestock grazing, avian and bat species, other species, wildlife management, treaty rights, cultural resources and historic properties, and visual resources.

Members of the Friends of Minidoka, a nonprofit organization, raised questions about the impact of the project on the Minidoka National Historic Site. The site commemorates Japanese Americans who were imprisoned at the Minidoka War Relocation Center during World War II.

“It is a very important site here in this area, and it could potentially be impacted from this project,” Shoshone BLM field manager Cody Martin said during the meeting.

Because of the significance of the site, there will be a lot of analysis that looks at what impacts could occur and to what extent, Martin said.

Paul Tomita commented about the importance of the site to his own family.

“Are you aware that Japanese Americans were imprisoned there? Are you aware that I was a prisoner there in 1942-3? Are you aware that this is sacred land? Find another location,” Tomita wrote in the public comment and answer section.

Current project plans have the last turbine placed two miles from the historic site, however, people have argued the project will be on top of the historic footprint of the camp that includes agricultural areas.

Mary Urashima commented that there has not been enough time to allow for information regarding the project to be spread among families of previously incarcerated individuals.

“Two scoping hearings is insufficient due to the impacts on environment and historic/cultural resources. Also, those who are interested parties regarding Minidoka are spread across the U.S.,” Urashima wrote.

Concerns over avian species including birds of prey, pheasants, and sage grouse were also raised during the meeting.

Jamie Young, from SWCA Environmental Consultants, said Magic Valley Energy is preparing a bird and bat conservation strategy.

“Surveys have been conducted for birds and bats and are continuing to be conducted,” Young said.

The meeting went over the scheduled hour and not all of the public comments had time to be answered. BLM staff asked everyone to submit comments before the scoping period ends and reach out to BLM project manager Kasey Prestwich with any concerns.