Sage grouse concerns nix energy project
BEND — A federal appeals court has killed a large wind energy project in southeast Oregon.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that an environmental review by the Bureau of Land Management failed to adequately assess the winter population of greater sage grouse at the proposed facility near Steens Mountain in Harney County.
Columbia Energy Partners proposed the project for roughly 10,500 acres of private land. The project called for 40 to 69 wind turbines and a 230-kilovolt transmission line to bring the energy to the electrical grid.
The BLM had approved the project, and Harney County granted a key permit.
"One more lost opportunity for our community," Judge Steve Grasty, a top official in the county, told The Bulletin newspaper (https://is.gd/mhAWbu).
Environmental groups challenged the BLM's environmental review of the project. It needed the environmental review partly because the transmission line's right of way would cross public lands.
Greater sage grouse need sagebrush year-round for mating, nesting and rearing their broods. They also eat pretty much only sagebrush through the winter. Loss of sagebrush habitat has contributed to sage grouse population decline in Oregon.
The appeals court decision said the BLM completed no surveys on whether sage grouse were at the site during the winter.
"The inaccurate information and unsupported assumptions materially impeded informed decision-making and public participation," the decision said.
Brent Fenty is executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association, a Bend-based environmental group that brought the lawsuit. He called the wind project the "right idea in the wrong place" and noted ONDA's 2009 report that analyzes wildlife habitats and landscapes in Oregon's High Desert to identify areas where wind projects would have the least impact.
Fenty said "hundreds of thousands of acres" should have been considered before the Steens Mountain location.
Grasty questioned the ability of courts to interpret land management-related decisions, saying land managers should be given deference because they have the expertise that courts lack.
"It's incredibly frustrating," he said.