Groups sue over proposed Steens Mountain wind farm

Two environmental groups have filed suit against the federal government over a proposal to build a wind farm near the Steens Mountain wilderness area.

Two environmental groups have filed suit against the federal government over a proposal to build a wind farm near the Steens Mountain wilderness area.

The Audubon Society of Portland and the Oregon Natural Desert Association filed a lawsuit Thursday to block what the groups claim is an illegal wind project proposed in Harney County near the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management Area.

The 104-megawatt project, dubbed the Echanis Wind Energy Project, would be developed by Vancouver, Wash.-based Columbia Energy Partners on private land near Diamond. The transmission line to link the project to grid got a green light from the U.S. Department of the Interior in December. Columbia dropped plans to develop two other projects in the region in response to opposition from environmental groups.

The lawsuit filed against Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and the Bureau of Land Management in U.S. District Court maintains that the Echanis wind project will dominate the skyline and cause harm to a variety of sensitive and protected species. The groups behind the complaint also say that the project would fragment "one of the largest undeveloped landscapes left in the Great Basin."

"Of all the places in Oregon's high desert, this is perhaps the worst place for wind development," said Brent Fenty, executive director of the Bend-based Oregon National Desert Association. "Steens Mountain is to Oregon's deserts what Crater Lake is to our forests; a truly special place we should protect for future generations."

The BLM's environment impact statement on the project reports that the Echanis project would only be visible from 0.4 percent of the Steen's wilderness area.

As proposed, the Echanis project would generate enough power for about 30,000 homes. The project is also expected to create 219 construction jobs, 16 permanent jobs and $4.5 million in property tax revenue.

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