It's considered one of the most pristine wilderness areas in the West. Stretching across southeastern Oregon, over 425,550 undeveloped acres dotted with desert, mountains and wildlife.
"It's hard to find a place like Steens Mountain any more.
You know, it's amazingly wild. What you feel is the kind of solitude that you really can't find in most places," Brent Fenty, executive director of the Bend-based Oregon Natural Desert Association, said Thursday.
In December, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed a decision allowing a power line to stretch across part of the Steens. It would connect wind turbines on the ridge to the power grid.
On Thursday, Salazar was sued by the Bend environmental group and the Audubon Society of Portland.
"We support the move towards energy independence for this country. I've said before, it's kind of the perfect example of the right idea in the wrong place," said Fenty.
According to the Interior Department the proposed wind farm would generate enough power for 30,000 homes, create 235 jobs and generate $4.5 million in local tax revenue over the life of the project. We contacted the federal agency, but they declined an opportunity to comment.
"To have an out-of-state developer, being financed by New York money, to send power to Southern California does not do justice to the magnitude of this landscape and to the importance of it to Oregonians," Fenty said.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Portland.
Below is a press release provided by ONDA in regards to their lawsuit. For further information about the Steens from both ONDA and the Department of Interior, use the links below.
Plans to build an industrial-scale wind facility on Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon?s high desert were challenged in court Thursday by the Bend-based Oregon Natural Desert Association and the Audubon Society of Portland.
The lawsuit seeks to block what the conservation groups claim is an illegal project by the Department of the Interior that would forever change an otherwise wild and beautiful landscape.
In December, the Secretary of the Interior approved a plan allowing the developer to build up to 70 wind turbines and a high-capacity transmission line on the remote and iconic mountain, located in southeast Oregon.
Electricity generated by the wind project will be sent to southern California as part of an agreement with Southern California Edison; approximately half of the project cost will be subsidized by taxpayers, according to the groups, citing project financing documents.
Critics argue that Oregonians should not be asked to sacrifice Steens Mountain to a Washington-based, New York-financed company in order to generate electricity for California.
Transmission lines for the project would cut across an area protected by Congress in 2000 and the project would fragment one of the largest undeveloped landscapes left in the Great Basin, the lawsuit alleges.
Wind turbines, transmission lines, access roads and associated development pose threats to migratory routes and breeding areas for sensitive species such as bighorn sheep, Golden eagles, and Greater sage-grouse, a bird recently recognized by the Department of the Interior?s own Fish and Wildlife Service as being in danger of extinction, due primarily to fragmentation of its sagebrush habitat, according to the two groups.
?Of all the places in Oregon?s High Desert, this is perhaps the worst place for wind development,? said Brent Fenty, executive director of ONDA. ?Steens Mountain is to Oregon?s deserts what Crater Lake is to our forests -- a truly special place we should protect for future generations.?
In 2000, Congress passed a law requiring that the Secretary of the Interior protect the ?long-term ecological integrity? and ?character? of a half-million acre areas of public land on Steens Mountain. That area includes 170,000 acres Congress protected as wilderness. Wind turbines reaching higher than 400 feet will be visible from popular vistas including the mountain?s popular summit overlook, the project foes claim.
The proposed 230-kilovolt transmission line is several times the size necessary for the current proposal, thereby enabling extensive future development on the mountain, they said.
"We support responsible renewable energy development, but this is the antithesis," said Bob Sallinger, conservation director for Portland Audubon. "There is nothing green about this project. It puts imperiled wildlife populations at risk and opens one of our great wild landscapes to industrial development."
ONDA and Audubon are represented by the public interest law firm, Advocates for the West.