Between now and September 17 is your last opportunity to weigh in on the Bureau of Land Management’s plan to permit power lines, road development, and large-scale wind development on Steens Mountain.
The Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS) for the North Steens Transmission Line. The 230-kilovolt transmission line would carry power generated by wind energy turbines proposed on private land on the north side of Steens Mountain, much of which was protected as wilderness by Congress in 2000. While still seeking permits to develop the project, including sections of the lines that cross public lands, the developer has already contracted to sell the power to a southern California utility.
The Draft EIS proposes three alternatives:
Alternative A – No Action.
Alternative B – a 29-mile transmission line that would cross approximately 19 miles of private land, 9 miles of BLM-administered public land, and 1.3 miles of land on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, including a crossing over the Blitzen Valley.
Alternative C – a longer route that would not cross the refuge and instead would run north from the mountain.
The BLM is taking public comments on the draft EIS until September 17th. Please send in comments supporting the “No Action” Alternative, Alternative A. The BLM and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service should not grant a Right of Way for the Proposed North Steens Transmission Line. The likely harm to the ecological integrity of Steens Mountain from the proposed wind turbines and transmission line is too great for the federal agencies to sign off on the project.
Please take the time to submit comments on the North Steens Transmission Line Draft EIS.
Written comments can be emailed to the BLM at OR_Burns_NS_Transmission_Line_EIS@blm.gov or mailed to:
North Steens Transmission Line Project Lead
BLM Burns District Office
28910 Hwy 20 West
Hines, OR 97738
Recommended talking points include:
• The proposed transmission route crosses the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a refuge dedicated over 100 years ago to native and migrating bird populations. The presence of 70-120 ft poles with tiered power lines poses flight hazards to large birds, such as pelicans, sandhill cranes, white-faced ibis, snow geese, Ross’ geese and Golden eagles, through strikes against the new infrastructure.
• The transmission line, turbines, associated roads and substations will fragment sage grouse, elk, and mule deer habitat. Disturbance to sagebrush habitat in this area will greatly impact sage grouse populations associated with four known sage grouse leks in the area. Sage grouse numbers are decreasing and the federal government recently announced the listing the sage grouse on the endangered species list warranted, though it is not officially listed yet. There is also the potential for increased predation on sage grouse as the transmission towers and lines provide perches and nesting sites for raptors.
• Part of the transmission line and most of the turbines lie within areas that the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife has deemed off-limits to any industrial development because of sage grouse populations.
• The draft EIS has not adequately analyzed impacts to sage grouse, Golden eagles, and other birds and wildlife from three of the four generating sites that are planned to connect to the new line. The current draft EIS only analyzes the impacts of one turbine site, while the developer, Columbia Energy Partners, has made it clear that it intends to develop four wind energy generation sites on or near Steens, all of which will use the proposed transmission line. This represents over 100 turbines within five miles of sage grouse leks, the minimum distance prescribed by U.S. Fish & Wildlife and the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife. The BLM must prepare a supplemental draft EIS to adequately analyze the impacts from all four proposed wind energy generation sites.
• 425-foot tall turbines associated with this project would be visible along the Steens Loop Road at Fishlake Campground, Whorehouse Meadows, the Kiger Gorge overlook, and along the ridgeline above Mann Lake and the Alvord Desert.
• The BLM must not issue a Right of Way for the proposed transmission line based on the unacceptable impacts to federally-protected lands in the Steens Cooperative Management and Protection Area, other federal lands, and the wildlife that live there.
• The draft EIS was prepared by a third party consultant with little apparent input from the land management agencies. Call on BLM and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to conduct their own, independent studies of the dangers to sage grouse, Golden eagles, waterfowl, and other wildlife from this ill-conceived industrial development on Steens Mountain.
A project description and the full Draft EIS can be found at http://www.blm.gov/or/districts/burns/plans/steen_trans/index.php