On June 11, the state Energy Facility Siting Council (EFSC) voted unanimously to deny ONDA’s petition to include private lands on Steens Mountain in a list of “protected places” off-limits to development.
The petition asserted that The Steens Mountain Act, passed by Congress in 2000, intended to preclude development on all lands within an area designated a “cooperative management and protection area” (CMPA). EFSC weighed volumes of written evidence from ONDA and others, then heard presentations on June 11 from ONDA attorneys, the BLM, Harney County and dozens of citizens. After carefully weighing all that information, EFSC considered six points in determining whether or not to move forward with the request. With five members considering six points, there were 30 times EFSC members could have agreed with ONDA or cited a gray area. They each disagreed with ONDA on each of the six points.
EFSC is a state agency, staffed by the Oregon Department of Energy. Council members are appointed by the Governor, from various interest groups, from around the state. Among other things, they are responsible for permitting larger energy facilities, including larger wind farms.
This was ONDA’s second petition (see here) to EFSC. Their first petition was also denied by unanimous vote.
From our perspective, this unanimous vote sent a strong signal that the wilderness is composed of those lands set aside by Congress as wilderness, and that private lands outside the wilderness were indeed explicitly protected by the Steens Act.
The Oregonian ran a front page story on May 31 about the extraordinary drop in migratory birds visiting the famed Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Waterfowl production is down 75 percent at the refuge and visiting bird numbers have fallen by several million a year, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The cause, apparently, is carp. The non-native species has proliferated to the point where they have eaten the plant and invertebrate life migrating birds have historically relied on.
“It’s a giant carp pond,” said Bob Sallinger, spokesman for the Audubon Society of Portland. “That lake is basically a dead lake.”
The article points out that the US Fish & Wildlife agency, which manages the Refuge, has tried poisoning the Refuge, with temporary, partial success. The fish are back in force within four years, the Oregonian reported. The story also notes that fishing is not allowed in the Refuge. The story says it would take two years to enact a simple fishing season through the federal process. Read the full story here.
Columbia Energy Partners has been working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for an easement across less than 10 miles of federal lands to get power from an approved wind farm off the north side of Steens Mountain to the existing grid. One group that’s expressed strong concern about the project is Portland Audubon, citing fears for birds stopping over in the Refuge.
The Oregonian story suggests there are more pressing problems, such as coping with carp, to deal with. And that oil spill in the Gulf. That project was permitted with a “Categorical Exclusion” (basically an administratively approved permit) unlike the 2 year, $2million process CEP is engaged in to build a power line across open desert.With overwhelming local support.
CEP sees our project as part of the answer, not a problem, and we’re eager to work with Audubon on reducing our country’s reliance on fossil fuels. We’d even help with those carp, if invited to try.