Federal court kills wind project near Steens Mountain

By The Associated Press

A federal court has killed a large wind energy project in southeast Oregon over concerns about a declining sage grouse population that needs the area to breed.

In this April 20, 2013 file photo, male greater sage grouse perform mating rituals for a female grouse, not pictured, on a lake outside Walden, Colo. A federal court has killed a large wind energy project in southeast Oregon over concerns about a declining sage grouse population that needs the area to breed. The U.S. District Court in Portland vacated plans for the project Tuesday, April 18, 2017, bringing an end to lengthy litigation over the proposal by Columbia Energy Partners. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A federal court has killed a large wind energy project in southeast Oregon over concerns about a declining sage grouse population that needs the area to breed.

The U.S. District Court in Portland vacated plans for the project Tuesday, bringing an end to lengthy litigation over the proposal by Columbia Energy Partners.

The project proposal was for wind energy development on roughly 10,500 acres of private land in Harney County near Steens Mountain.

The project called for 40 to 69 wind turbines and a 230-kilovolt transmission line to bring the energy to the electrical grid.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management had approved the project, and Harney County granted a key permit.

But environmental groups, including the Oregon Natural Desert Association and the Audubon Society of Portland, challenged the BLM's environmental review of the project. It needed the environmental review partly because the transmission line's right of way would cross public lands.

The groups said the BLM did not conduct surveys to determine how many sage grouse wintered in the area — and last year, an appeals court sided with opponents.

That ruling set the stage for this week's action by the court, which vacated the Secretary of the Interior's approval of the large wind project.

Greater sage grouse need sagebrush year-round for mating, nesting and rearing their broods. They also eat pretty much only sagebrush through the winter. Loss of sagebrush habitat has contributed to sage grouse population decline in Oregon.

Columbia Energy Partners did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment Wednesday. A number listed for their Vancouver, Washington office rang busy.

"Steens Mountain never should have been considered for industrial wind development," said Bob Sallinger, conservation director of the Audubon Society of Portland. "We strongly support the transition to renewable energy sources but it needs to be done in a responsible manner."

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