A federal judge has sent the Interior Department back to the drawing board and told it to rework paperwork that resulted in granting a Record of Decision allowing the construction of a wind turbine farm east of Searchlight. Interior had issued an environmental impact statement that found the project’s impact on endangered desert tortoises and protected bald and golden eagles was not great enough to reject the construction of wind turbines near Lake Mojave.
The Searchlight Wind Energy Project would erect 87 industrial-scale wind turbines that would be more than 400 feet tall.
In her ruling six weeks ago, Judge Miranda Du pointed out the initial data used by the Bureau of Land Management for the determination found that there were only three golden eagle nests within 10 miles of the proposed turbines — similar turbines near Ely have killed two golden eagles in two years. Subsequent surveys actually found 19 probable or confirmed golden eagle nests within five miles of the site, the judge wrote.
Also, the original study relied on Idaho data about the foraging distances golden eagles may fly from their nests.
“In December 2012, however, researchers published a study addressing golden eagle home ranges and foraging distances in the Mojave Desert,” Judge Du writes. “The study shows larger home range sizes and foraging distances than those reported in the FEIS (Final Environmental Impact Statement). Taken together, this new information is sufficient to show significant environmental effects that Federal Defendants should consider in an SEIS (Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement).”
Du also told the BLM to re-evaluate its conclusions about the impact of the project on desert tortoises, especially the effects of blasting and noises of the turbines during operation.
In a press release this past week the conservation groups who filed the federal suit to block the project stated that a survey actually found 28 golden eagle nests within 10 miles of the project site and that a new study shows golden eagles in the Mojave Desert travel nearly 10 times as far from their nests to forage as previously thought.
The plaintiffs include Friends of Searchlight Desert and Mountains, Basin and Range Watch and individuals Judy Bundorf, Ellen Ross and Ronald Van Fleet Sr.
“The Searchlight area merits preservation from large-scale industrial development. The historic town is the ‘Gateway to Lake Mohave’ and Cottonwood Cove in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and is surrounded by beautiful Joshua trees and abundant wildlife,” said Searchlight resident Bundorf. “Thousands of tourists visit each year, and enjoy the wide-open vistas and unspoiled Mojave Desert scenery. Allowing a 9,000-acre, 14-square-mile industrial wind energy project around the town would be a death knell for tourism, and for the rural lifestyle of people who call the little community home.”
Interior has been cheerleading all kinds of bird killing renewable energy projects on public land.
The last time I checked the owners of the project had not found a buyer for the power the project would produce.
In 2012, Bundorf also testified before the Clark County Commission in an unsuccessful attempt to block extension of the wind farm’s deadline for beginning construction.
Bundorf compared the Searchlight project to the Sloan gravel pit project. Sen. Harry Reid, who had a home in Searchlight, fought the 640-acre gravel pit and managed to shut it down. Bundorf offered that she would rather have a hole in the ground than 87 huge windmills. She estimated the windmills, with 24-hour blinking strobe lights for aviation safety, will be visible from 20 miles away.
Reid has since sold his Searchlight home to a mining company and moved to Henderson. Coincidentally, when the project was first proposed it was to have 165 wind turbines, some on the west side of the town where Reid lived, but a comprise removed all the westernmost turbines.