In the quest to move Oregon toward renewable energy, there are no easy answers.
Protecting the Landscape
"What do we want to give up for renewable energy in Oregon? Do we want to give up a place like this?? asks Matt Little, conservation director for the Bend-based Oregon Natural Desert Association.
We are standing at the base of the nearly 10,000-foot peaks that make up the east ridge of the Steens Mountain Wilderness.
It's taken 3 1/2f hours of driving east from Bend, then south from Burns to reach this spot alongside Mann Lake.
Pelicans are soaring above, circling up towards the peaks, riding the thermal air currents that flow along the mountainside. Other than the wind, the only sound are the birds. Thousands of them, scattered across the shallow, weed-filled lake.
?I don't think people would want them on the top of Crater Lake or the Grand Canyon," says Little, referring to the proposed wind towers.
The Echanis wind power project, planned by Columbia Energy Partners, has obtained its final approval to be built on private land.
While it's hard to imagine the turbines, each said to be comparable in size to the Statue of Liberty, towering down on this wilderness, it's equally hard to imagine halting a project that produces clean, renewable energy and jobs in a county with 12.5 percent unemployment.
The Voice of the People
"We need jobs. We need to use our renewable resources," said Pete Runnels, a Harney County commissioner.
The Echanis project would bring 100 construction jobs and 8-12 jobs long-term.
Though the numbers seem small, Harney County's population is equally small. Runnels says by comparison, it would be like bringing 1,500 new jobs to Portland.
His deep love for the Steens Mountains and the appreciation for the natural beauty is obvious within a minute of our conversation.
"I can remember hiking into a creek, and there was a chipmunk that was sick. I mean, you could tell, it just wasn't running from you, it would walk and stagger. And caring for that, the community of nature all around, it's a memory that's stuck in my mind forever," Runnels says, recounting a fond childhood memory in the Steens.
It's a love for the landscape born from a lifetime in the community. A life that has led him to stay, when many others have left.
Harney County still is not up to the employment level it saw in the 1980s when lumber was king of the town.
For Runnels, the owner of the local Figaro's pizza franchise, Harney County is home, whether the economy sinks or swims. He is not excited to see the blinking red lights on the wind towers at night, but he's also frustrated.
For years, he, along with others in the county government, have been working to bring jobs to Harney County.
While he recognizes the projects' environmental impact, the trade-off in mitigation and community benefits outweigh the negatives, in his view.
But the project may never come to fruition.
ONDA has sued the Secretary of Interior, accusing his agency of violating the Steens Act in approving the transmission line needed to carry electricity from the turbines to the power grid.
That's put county commissioners, like Runnels, on the sidelines of a lawsuit that directly impacts their community.
"This has to be just how the Native Americans felt when the white man came west. You talk about being run off your land and not having a voice in your land -- we're reliving it,? said Runnels.
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