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The comment deadline on Lava Ridge is this week. Here’s what Idaho organizations are saying

Spiral bound copies of the draft EIS for Lava Ridge
Rachel Cohen
Boise State Public Radio
The draft environmental impact statement for the Lava Ridge Wind Project is more than 500 pages and includes multiple volumes.

The Bureau of Land Management has received more than 7,500 comments so far on the Lava Ridge Wind Project, which would be Idaho's largest wind farm if it's approved as soon as this fall.

Comments are due this Thursday after the deadline was extended an extra 30 days.

The BLM is not currently focused on tallying how many comments are for or against Lava Ridge, or specific alternatives, but that information could be available in a summary of the public comments, said Heather Tiel-Nelson, the public affairs specialist for the Twin Falls District.

Since the draft report was released in January, the Idaho Legislature and seven Magic Valley counties have passed resolutions in opposition to Lava Ridge.

In the legislature, no lawmakers from either chamber or party were recorded voting against the resolution, through which sponsors sought to encourage Gov. Brad Little and Attorney General Raul Labrador to take “what legal actions are available” to encourage the BLM’s rejection of the project proposed by LS Power.

Little and members of the congressional delegation also wrote Idaho State Director Karen Kelleher voicing their concerns.

U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson asked BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning about the project in budget hearings last month, noting locals are predominantly opposed to it.

Stone-Manning said the agency is balancing renewable energy needs with the concerns of locals and members of the Japanese American community.

BLM has a goal to permit 25 gigawatts of renewable energy on public land by 2025 to combat climate change, and the power produced at Lava Ridge could supply more than 300,000 homes.

What organizations are saying about the Lava Ridge Wind Project

The BLM is leaning toward two plans that move the turbines farther from the Minidoka National Historic Site where 13,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II.

Still, the Friends of Minidoka nonprofit is advocating for the project to be rejected altogether.

In an early review of the draft environmental impact statement, the organization said the report failed to adequately protect the significance of the land surrounding the historic site as a place of reflection and healing for the survivors and their descendants.

Additionally, some of Idaho’s most prominent environmental organizations are not voicing their support for the renewable energy project, in part over concerns about the precedent it would set for future wind and solar development on public lands.

The Idaho Conservation League is not supporting the initial proposal by LS Power or any of the BLM’s alternatives. But it’s also opposed to the “no build” option, said John Robison, the public lands director for the organization.

Particular areas of concern for ICL include impacts to the pronghorn migratory path, the Minidoka National Historic Site and Shoshone-Bannock cultural resources.

Yet Robison said simply rejecting Lava Ridge wouldn’t fix the process for the next time a large wind or solar farm is under review here. Lava Ridge is the first of several renewable energy projects proposed on public lands in the Magic Valley.

ICL wants the BLM to go back to the drawing board to draft up new alternatives. It also is asking the agency’s Idaho office to take a step back and come up with a statewide plan to identify spots suitable for renewable energy development.

“So we’re not playing whack-a-mole again and again,” said Robison.

The Idaho Wildlife Federation is making a similar request to the agency. In its view, the draft environmental impact statement came up short when identifying potential impacts on big game species. All the alternatives would include development within the Owinza Pronghorn Migration Route.

“That is unacceptable to us,” said Garret Visser, the conservation program coordinator for the Idaho Wildlife Federation.

On the other hand, one organization sprang up recently to counter what it sees as misinformation about the project and advocate for renewable energy needs.

Peter Richardson, a lawyer and the chairman of Idaho Energy Freedom, said Lava Ridge will be beneficial to Idaho’s economy and communities. He said the organization will defer to the BLM’s judgment on which turbine arrangement is best, but he said the group wants it to choose one that will minimize impacts to Minidoka.

Richardson said that compared to Lava Ridge, there was almost no opposition to wind projects he previously helped site in the Magic Valley. Those developments were on private land. Richardson worries about what a rejection of Lava Ridge would mean for future proposed wind projects.

“We hope it doesn’t poison the well, so to speak,” he said.

For its part, Magic Valley Energy, a subsidiary of LS Power, said the environmental review process is adequately addressing many of the questions raised by Idahoans about Lava Ridge.

A final environmental report is scheduled to be out this summer, and the BLM could make its final decision on the project this fall.

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.

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