FRENCHGLEN, Ore. – The vision of up to 70 wind turbines lined up across Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon is just too much for advocates of preserving the state’s stark, high-desert landscape. They have filed a lawsuit to keep a wind developer from building 400-foot-high turbines, access roads and 40 miles of transmission lines in order to supply electricity to customers in California.
Courts – the Last Resort
The project would dissect land protected by Congress in 2000. Brent Fenty, executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), says going to court was a last resort.
“We’ve spent four years trying to work with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other stakeholders, the counties and the developer, to try to sort out some sort of solution. Clearly, we weren’t able to do that, and that’s what puts us where we are today.”
According to Fenty, the proposal is for a 230-kilovolt transmission line, several times the size that the developer has said is necessary, which ONDA believes opens the door for more development in the area. The turbines would be visible from popular vistas, including the mountain’s summit overlook, adds Fenty.
Conflict of Interest
The other plaintiff is the Audubon Society of Portland. Conservation Director Bob Sallinger cites concerns about the golden eagle and prime sage-grouse habitat that would be affected by the proposed wind project.
“We’re asking to stop the project. Southeastern Oregon is really one of the strongholds for sage grouse. We need to be very, very careful, on a landscape scale, what we do down there; otherwise, we are going to wind up with a species that is listed in the next few years.”
Since 2000, Steens Mountain has been jointly managed by the BLM and a special advisory council. Fenty says the 12-member council has been unable to weigh in, however, because members’ conflicts of interest prevented a quorum. He points to plenty of windy spots in Oregon’s high desert that he’s convinced would be better suited for the project.
“It would be much easier for developers to push for development in those other areas. Instead, they’ve chosen to pursue development in an area that has a tremendous amount of conflicts. You would be hard-pressed to find an area in Oregon’s high desert that has more conflicts than Steens Mountain.”
Edison Wants More Power for California
Southern California Edison wants the additional power. The BLM approved the plan in December. The lawsuit was filed against U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, as chief executive of the agency.
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