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Lawsuit Challenges Steens Mtn. Wind Project

By Chris Thomas
Public News Service - OR

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.

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.

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.

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.

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