Check, Check: Feds Move Chokecherry And Sierra Madre Closer To Fruition

Posted by Betsy Lillian on January 19, 2017 1 Comment
Categories : Featured, New & Noteworthy

Power Company of Wyoming can check off two more boxes in the ongoing advancement of its Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Project (CCSM): The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has completed the second of two environmental assessments (EAs), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has issued a record of decision for granting an eagle take permit. Both decisions cover Phase 1 of the two-phase, 3 GW project, which, in total, will comprise up to 1,000 turbines on almost 220,000 acres south of Rawlins, Wyo.

In March of last year, the BLM issued a final environmental assessment (EA) analyzing the potential impacts of constructing 500 wind turbines on mixed-ownership land in Carbon County, Wyo. The EA incorporates and builds on analysis undertaken in a 2012 final environmental impact statement (FEIS), which evaluated the potential impacts of the project as a whole. After considering public comments, the BLM has now prepared a finding of no new significant impact and record of decision.

The BLM administers approximately half of the land associated with the project site; the remainder of the site is made up of privately owned and state lands. However, the bureau notes that no ground-disturbing activities associated with the turbines can begin until it issues a right-of-way grant and notice to proceed.

According to PCW, the FEIS resulted from more than four years of environmental data-gathering, analysis, public input and collaboration among federal, state and local cooperating agencies. In January 2008, PCW applied to the BLM for wind energy development rights-of-way on the federal land. After completing a project-wide EIS, the BLM approved the CCSM project site for wind energy development in a record of decision signed Oct. 9, 2012.

The first EA, completed and approved in December 2014, analyzed the site-specific plans of development for associated infrastructure components. BLM issued a right-of-way grant and limited notice to proceed for these infrastructure components on Aug. 25, 2016.

On the FWS side, the agency’s record of decision approves PCW’s voluntary applications for standard and programmatic eagle take permits. The developer says the FWS’ decision follows the Dec. 8, 2016, publication of its FEIS, which analyzed avian conservation measures for Phase I of the project.

According to the agency, the FEIS for CCSM analyzed a potential range of project alternatives and accompanying mitigation actions to determine the impacts of permitting limited eagle take. The FWS evaluated four alternatives, including issuing the permit as requested in the application, issuing a permit with different eagle mitigation requirements, issuing a permit for the project at a smaller scale, or not issuing the permit at all.

In the end, the FWS determined that it could issue eagle take permits for the project as requested, which included significant avoidance, minimization and compensatory mitigation measures. Those permits would cover any unavoidable disturbance of eagles during construction, as well as take of eagles during the development’s ongoing operation for a five-year period. The agency’s analysis indicated that it is likely that one to two bald eagles and 10-14 golden eagles per year would be harmed or killed by the project.

Upon completion of final permit application requirements, PCW would be issued a take (disturb, injure or kill) permit that would cover the anticipated eagle impacts. Under federal regulations, compensatory mitigation is not required for bald eagles because their abundance can withstand the impacts of the project. However, any golden eagle taken must be compensated for to ensure golden eagle populations remain stable, the agency says.

PCW says it developed two main conservation plans addressing eagles, bats and other migratory birds: the Phase I Eagle Conservation Plan and the Phase I Bird and Bat Conservation Strategy. The developer says both plans were built on a foundation of over five years of scientific data-collection, over 5,000 hours of avian-use surveys specific to the CCSM project site, and ongoing coordination with the FWS since 2010.

“Over 70 years ago, our nation made a clear statement about the importance of protecting eagles with the passage of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act,” states Noreen Walsh, the FWS’s Mountain-Prairie regional director. “As the federal agency charged with implementing that law, the decision the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is announcing today demonstrates that by working closely with industry, we can develop our nation’s wind resources in a way that conserves our extraordinary wildlife resources.”

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