(Washington, D.C., October 10, 2012) U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced on October 9, 2012, that his department has approved the proposed Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project site as suitable for wind energy development. The project will consist of two sites encompassing up to 1,000 wind turbines on almost 220,000 acres of public and private lands. The project, to be located about ten miles south of Rawlins in Carbon County, will be developed in phases and operated by Power Company of Wyoming LLC.
In July 2012, the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, American Bird Conservancy (ABC), and Western Watersheds Project sent a letter to the Interior Department outlining issues with the proposed project, the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) that was conducted to pave the way for the project’s approval, and the Proposed Visual Resource Management Plan Amendment.
This latter document inexplicably downgraded the existing assessment of the project area’s surroundings in regard to its visual quality, enabling the project to circumvent development restrictions that would have otherwise prevented it from going ahead.
Following is a statement from ABC and the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance on that DOI decision.
“This is a very troubling decision. From the incomplete impact analysis to blatantly bad siting, the Chokecherry – Sierra Madre Wind Project violates a plethora of the most basic principles of environmentally sound wind power production. This project is on track to become the single most deadly wind farm for eagles in the country, an Altamont Pass II,” said Kelly Fuller, Wind Campaign Coordinator for American Bird Conservancy.
“This project should be sited elsewhere, such as the High Plains to the east of the Laramie Range, where it would have had minimal impacts on rare and sensitive wildlife,” said Erik Molvar, Wildlife Biologist with Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. “Instead, it is being sited on lands that Governor Freudenthal designated as a Sage-Grouse Core Area due to the complex of breeding populations found there, and the projected impacts on Golden Eagles, a bird with a low reproductive rate, will cause far-reaching problems.”
Other issues include:
The project will have a major impact on birds of prey, particularly Golden Eagles, as well as Greater Sage-Grouse, a candidate for Endangered Species Act listing. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) estimated in the FEIS that Golden Eagle fatalities could be 46-64 eagles each year. Other estimates put this figure as high as 215 Golden Eagles. Even at the lower mortality rate, that would make Chokecherry comparable to Altamont Pass in California, where wind power-related mortality was found to have a significant impact in depressing eagle populations.
The proposed Plan Amendment for the project does not provide the bare minimum in protection required by BLM’s own Management Plan, as well as other federal regulations and law. There are a multitude of unacceptable levels of impact, including siting the project on excellent sage-grouse habitat that was gerrymandered out of lands classified as key Wyoming sage-grouse areas specifically so this project could be built.
This project is proceeding when assessments of threats to birds are at best incomplete and in some cases deferred until a later time. In fact, BLM prepared the FEIS without even knowing exactly where the wind turbines would be located on the site. As a result, BLM is flying blind, unable to accurately assess the magnitude of impacts, plan mitigation measures that might compensate in some way for these impacts, and then evaluate the efficacy of these mitigation measures, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The FEIS failed to rigorously examine reasonable alternatives, a clear NEPA violation. Although the FEIS proposes various action alternatives for the site development, all of them would result in approval of 1,000 turbines, and would place these turbines in substantially the same areas, with only minor variations. Essentially, all of the action alternatives are variants of the same alternative.
Lastly, it is both disturbing and alarming that this decision has been announced without the immediate availability of the formal Record of Decision to the public. This is a clear attempt to prevent anyone with opposing viewpoints from being able to review and comment on this fractured process in a timely fashion.
For more detailed information, see our protest letter.
This article was written and published by American Bird Conservancy (ABC), a 501(c) not-for-profit membership organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. ABC acts by safeguarding the rarest species, conserving and restoring habitats, and reducing threats, while building capacity in the bird conservation movement.