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BLM begins process to consider proposed Walker Ridge wind project

CLEARLAKE OAKS, Calif. -- The Bureau of Land Management is in the beginning stages of a year-long process to analyze a Canadian-owned company's proposal to build dozens of turbines in the Walker Ridge area, where another wind farm had been proposed a decade ago.

The project, proposed by Colusa Wind LLC, calls for the building of up to 42 wind turbines on approximately 2,270 acres of BLM-managed public land along Walker Ridge in Lake County, within the Indian Valley Management Area.

Other aspects of the proposed project include widening Walker Ridge Road, constructing a substation and overhead transmission line, and burying a collection line and tie-in to the existing Pacific Gas and Electric transmission line.

A full document library on the project can be found here.

The proposal's notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement was published in the Federal Register on June 21, kicking off a 30-day public comment period, which ends July 24.

As part of the public input process, the BLM held an open house on the project on July 9 in Clearlake Oaks, as Lake County News has reported. Numerous county leaders, fire official and residents,... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

CLEARLAKE OAKS, Calif. -- The Bureau of Land Management is in the beginning stages of a year-long process to analyze a Canadian-owned company's proposal to build dozens of turbines in the Walker Ridge area, where another wind farm had been proposed a decade ago.

The project, proposed by Colusa Wind LLC, calls for the building of up to 42 wind turbines on approximately 2,270 acres of BLM-managed public land along Walker Ridge in Lake County, within the Indian Valley Management Area.

Other aspects of the proposed project include widening Walker Ridge Road, constructing a substation and overhead transmission line, and burying a collection line and tie-in to the existing Pacific Gas and Electric transmission line.

A full document library on the project can be found here.

The proposal's notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement was published in the Federal Register on June 21, kicking off a 30-day public comment period, which ends July 24.

As part of the public input process, the BLM held an open house on the project on July 9 in Clearlake Oaks, as Lake County News has reported. Numerous county leaders, fire official and residents, along with groups like the Sierra Club and Tuleyome, attended to get additional details about the plan.

At that event BLM officials were on hand to explain the process and the project details so far, and to take public input as it begins the environmental impact statement creation process, along with a potential amendment to the 2006 Ukiah Resource Management Plan for Colusa and Lake counties, which identified the Indian Valley Management Area as suitable for wind development.

Gaetan Mercier, a representative for the project proponents, was at the open house meeting. Mercier is director of project planning and permitting at the Canadian firm Liberty Power.

He said Colusa Wind is managed by Liberty Power, which in turn is owned by Canada-based Algonquin, which is on the New York and Toronto stock exchanges.

The proposed project will generate an estimated 144.4 megawatts, with the energy to be sold to PG&E and tied into an existing transmission line in the area, Mercier said.

He said the project, all of which will be located on the Lake County side of Walker Ridge, will be operated by five people on an ongoing basis. The turbine manufacturer will have three to four people operating it.

So far, Mercier said the project hasn't settled on which turbine manufacturer it will use, as they will be evaluating the most viable options as they analyze their alternatives.

At the July 9 open house, information on how many people would be involved in construction and how long that might take wasn't yet available.

Bob Schneider, a member of Tuleyome and a longtime conservationist, attended the open house, and questioned why scoping was starting on an incomplete project proposal. It was on that day that he was seeing some of the information for the first time.

BLM spokeswoman Serena Baker acknowledged there is still a lot of information to come, and the plan of development can be dynamic.

"We've just started," she said of the project, noting that the proposal's June 21 publication in the Federal Register was the first step.

While BLM's process has only just started, it's one that has been sped up significantly by an August 2017 order from the secretary of the Department of the Interior.

That order streamlines the review environmental review and permitting process for infrastructure projects under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.

As a result of the order, the BLM has one year from the notice of intention to make a decision about whether or not the project should move forward. That one-year process includes the often lengthy and complicated process of preparing and vetting an environmental impact statement, the federal version of an environmental impact report.

Baker said the BLM expects to have a record of decision by summer 2020.

"That's a pretty tight timeline," she said.

Current and past wind proposals focus on same area

In January 2010, AltaGas Income Trust, based in Calgary, Alberta, submitted a proposal to the BLM for a 60-to 70-megawatt clean energy wind generation project with 29 turbines to be located within a 8,157-acre area leased by the BLM to the company, as Lake County News reported. It was estimated that the project would generate enough energy to power 25,000 homes.

The process to review the project continued over several years and came to an apparent standstill by 2013.

A draft environmental impact was created for that proposed project but was pulled before publication, said Baker.

The Colusa Wind project is in the same general area as the AltaGas project, "but it's slightly different," and an apples to apples comparison can't be made between the two projects, said Baker.

In Colusa Wind's project, the available acreage is about a quarter of what had previously been proposed by AltaGas, and it proposes more turbines, up to 42 of them, Baker said.

The windmills will be up to 676 feet tall from the ground to the tip of the blade, according to details given at the meeting.

Mercier said the company proposing this new project is completely different than the one involved in the 2010 project proposal.

The turbines closest to the traveling public will be four miles from the scene area in Bear Valley, in the area of Highway 16 and Highway 20, BLM staff said.

Mockups of the windmills shown at the meeting at on the BLM Web site indicate that the structures will be able to be seen as far away as the Clear Lake Rivieras. Victoria Brandon, president of the Tuleyome Board of Directors and chair of the Sierra Club Lake Group, said she believes the structures will be visible from Lakeport.

Outlining concerns

Cal Fire Division Chief Greg Bertelli, Williams Fire Chief Jeff Gilbert and Northshore Fire Chief Mike Ciancio attended the July 9 meeting, as they were invited to bring any concerns they might have about the project.

They said at that time that medical response times are a concern, as are fire breaks for the project in an area that has repeatedly burned – most recently, 2008, 2012, 2015 and again in last year's fires – and the presence of an emergency communications repeater tower.

Bertelli noted that the area also has been used for a helicopter landing zone and staging area for wildland firefighting.

Ciancio would report to his fire board later that week regarding the project, "It's coming down to medical and rescue for us," with Cal Fire seeking increased fire breaks around the windmills and along Walker Ridge Road.

With Northshore Fire having no tower rescue know-how, Ciancio said he'll suggest that the fire board ask Colusa Wind to pay the $30,000 necessary to train his firefighters.

Brandon told Lake County News that she has a host of concerns, from the environmental to the economic, adding that both Tuleyome and the Sierra Club will submit comment letters on this project as they did on the previous.

"The dominant environmental impact is not birds and bats, it's grading," she said, pointing to the area's serpentine soil, which contains asbestos and is unstable geologically. That soil also is home to rare plants.

Grading could potentially impact two already impaired watersheds, the north fork of Cache Creek and Bear Creek, she said.

Brandon also cited the area's history of wildland fire, issues with lightning and its potential impact on Lake County's noted dark skies – which are now the focus of a certification process – due to the need to light the turbines at night for airplanes.

Then there is the presence of up to 42 turbines in the middle of the Pacific Flyway, where millions of birds migrate annually, in addition to the gold and bald eagles that nest in the area, she said.

In the past, such projects have died due to economic volatility and the bottom line, Brandon said, adding that the current proposal likely will require heavy subsidies. She said the AltaGas project was to have been partially located on land purchased with conservation funds that prevent that land for being used for industry, which finally killed it.

Brandon said the Obama administration had pushed for renewables on public lands, but the Trump administration is not big on renewables, while California supports them.

There also is a question about just how much wind is in the Walker Ridge area. Brandon believes it's an inconsistent source. She said previous studies have been proprietary so the information hasn't been released publicly.

A wind map posted on the Department of Energy Web site suggests that area has an annual average wind speed ranging from between 4 and 5.5 miles per hour.

Baker said that the BLM has a duty to analyze to the best of its ability any project proposal it receives.

At the same time, as part of its analysis, she said BLM has to consider and balance a host of concerns – among them, critical environmental habitats such as serpentine soil and the accompanying flora and fauna, wildland fire, wildlife, the viewshed, off highway vehicle use and recreation, protection of cultural sites and any other existing uses – against the project's benefits.

Two Lake County supervisors – Bruno Sabatier, representing District 2, and EJ Crandell, whose District 3 includes the Northshore and the project area – attended the July 9 open house to speak with federal officials.

Crandell said he's concerned about maintenance of BLM land, pointing to areas he's visited in the county that were impacted by last year's Mendocino Complex and had no fire prevention maintenance. If something were to occur with a turbine, he questioned what would happen and how it could impact the land.

He also questioned if Lake County will benefit locally from the power generation.

Crandell cited the concern for bald eagles and other raptors that make the area their home. The questions he raised about raptors also have cultural and religious implications for his tribe, the Robinson Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians. They use hawks for regalia and eagle feathers only when they're found.

Sabatier, like his colleague Crandell, wanted to know how Lake County will benefit from the project.

He said the Lake County Community Development Department said that Colusa Wind hasn't submitted an application yet to the county.

Baker said that she doesn't believe the applicant has to apply for county permits until a determination has been made whether or not to allow the proposed project.

Sabatier said he doesn't want to see a project that harms the environment and scenery, which are two of Lake County's greatest resources.

He said he wants to see a development agreement between the county and the applicant if the project moves forward, which will allow the county some impact on the operations.

"We need to have a say in what happens to our community," said Sabatier.

The next steps in the process

Baker said that the community is invited to give public comment on this portion of the project through July 24.

She said the BLM needs substantive comments, with new data and specific concerns listed. The agency asks people to avoid broad opinion favoring or opposing the proposed project with no supporting data, no vague and open-ended questions, statements or concerns that do not give the BLM direction to act, and no identical form letters or petition signatures.

Rather, they're seeking new or additional information or data sources pertaining to the proposed action. They ask for comments to clearly identify how their input is relevant, how it should be incorporated, to outline the issues and explain conclusions, and provide constructive solutions or reasonable alternatives with documentation or resources to support recommendations. If applicable, those submitting input are asked to include their experience as it relates to your observations and input.

"We want the public to be engaged," said Baker.

Once the public comment period closes, BLM will move into the preparation of the draft environmental impact statement and the potential resource management plan amendment, according to a project timeline.

From there, Baker said the BLM anticipates publishing a notice of availability of the draft environmental impact statement and potential resource management plan amendment in the fall, which will lay out the range of alternatives.

That will initiate a 90-day public comment period, to be followed by the publication of the notice of availability of the final environmental impact statement and proposed resource management plan amendment, anticipated to occur in spring 2020.

Following the publication of the notice in the spring, a 30-day protest period will begin. Baker said that groups and community members must be involved in one of the public scoping or comment periods in order to have standing to weigh in during the protest period.

At the same time as the public protest period takes place, a 60-day governor's consistency review will occur. The BLM will take input from those two steps and use them to resolve protests and inconsistencies.

The final step is the publication of the resource management plan amendment and record of decision next summer.

Baker said that the project is not guaranteed just because it was submitted, and that it must stand up to the analysis.

She said the BLM is willing to meet with community groups to further explain the process should they request it.

How to participate

The public is asked to submit written comments by the July 24 deadline.

Written comments may be submitted at https://go.usa.gov/xmtGu, via hand-delivery, or by mail to the Ukiah Field Office, Attn: Walker Ridge Wind Energy Project, 2550 N. State Street, Suite 2, Ukiah, CA 95482.

To be added to the electronic interested parties list, email bblm_ca_uk_walkerridgewindproject@blm.gov .


Source: https://www.lakeconews.com/...

JUL 21 2019
http://www.windaction.org/posts/51598-blm-begins-process-to-consider-proposed-walker-ridge-wind-project
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