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BLM favors wind turbine arrangements with less impact to Minidoka

Hanako Wakatsuki, the former Chief of Interpretation and Education at the Minidoka National Historical Site, points to an exhibit table outside the visitors center, in front of brown farm fields.
Rachel Cohen
/
Boise State Public Radio
Hanako Wakatsuki, the former Chief of Interpretation and Education at the Minidoka National Historical Site, points to a historical map of the site in 2020.

The Bureau of Land Management released its draft Environmental Impact Statement report last week on Lava Ridge, which would be Idaho’s largest wind farm if it's approved as soon as this year.

The report comes in the middle of the federal agency’s timeline of assessing the proposal from energy company Magic Valley Energy, a subsidiary of LS Power, to build up to 400 turbines on federal land northeast of Twin Falls.

Alternatives with fewer turbines

In the more than 500-page report, the BLM indicates it favors two alternative turbine arrangements to what Magic Valley Energy proposed a few years ago.

The alternatives "balance clean energy production with a reduced potential for impacts to historic, cultural, Tribal and land-use values," the agency said.

Known as Alternatives C and E, these plans would reduce the total acreage of the project and would involve fewer wind turbines – up to 378 in plan C and up to 269 in plan E.

Both alternatives would also reduce visual and auditory impacts to the Minidoka National Historic Site and Wilson Butte Cave, such as by reducing the number of turbines visible from the Historic Site’s visitor center, the agency said.

“Native American Tribes and Japanese American communities would be subject to disproportionate high and adverse effects from changes to the setting feeling, and visitor experience at Minidoka [War Relocation Center] and Minidoka [National Historic Site], and to physical and non-physical impacts to cultural resources,” the report stated regarding Magic Valley Energy’s original plan.

However, those impacts would still be present in Alternatives C and E, just reduced comparatively.

Impacts to wildlife

These alternate plans would also encourage the wind turbines to be placed in areas that have already been impacted by energy infrastructure and would reduce the amount of wildlife habitat that could be fragmented by development, according to the BLM.

In general, the agency found plans with fewer turbines would likely mean lessened impacts to wildlife, such as sage grouse, but also diminished economic benefits to local communities because of reduced labor needs and tax revenue generated.

Comparing the environmental, cultural and economic effects of a few different arrangements against the original plans is a key part of the environmental review process.

By identifying preferred alternatives, the BLM hopes to focus public comments it receives on the report, but it doesn’t mean the agency will necessarily end up choosing one of them. It won’t make the final decision on the project until this fall, at the earliest, after gathering more public comments and releasing a final version of the report.

Submitting public comments 

The BLM is accepting public comments on the draft EIS through March 21:

  • Website: Submit a comment online: https://bit.ly/3EirzxD. Click on the “Participate Now” button, enter your comment and information, then click “Submit.”
  • Email: BLM_ID_LavaRidge@blm.gov
  • Mail: “Lava Ridge Wind Project EIS” to Kasey Prestwich, Project Manager, BLM Shoshone Field Office, 400 West F Street, Shoshone, ID 83352

There are also several upcoming public meetings scheduled throughout the Magic Valley and the Northwest to go over the draft EIS and gather public feedback.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.