BEND, Ore. - The Bend-based Oregon Natural Desert Association and the Audubon Society of Portland said Thursday they have filed a petition asking Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to revoke a 2011 decision allowing "industrial-scale" wind development on southeast Oregon's Steens Mountain.
"The crumbling financial and regulatory framework for a proposed industrial wind facility on Steens Mountain has spurred on conservationists to petition (Salazar) to withdraw its approval of the project they contest is ill-sited and illegal," the announcement said.
The December 2011 decision approved a plan allowing a developer, Columbia Energy Partners, LLC to build a high-capacity transmission line and dozens of wind turbines on the remote and iconic mountain, located in southeast Oregon.
The decision was legally challenged by both groups based on what they call the risk of serious harm to wildlife, including sage grouse and golden eagles.
Several recent developments have dealt significant blows to the financial and technical feasibility of the project, according to the conservationists.
The Bureau of Land Management recently cancelled CEP's authority to begin development of the project.
Last month, they said, the Bonneville Power Administration informed the groups that CEP has withdrawn its application to connect to the BPA power grid, meaning that CEP is unable to deliver power generated by the project.
Last December, attorneys representing CEP in a legal challenge to the development abruptly withdrew, leaving CEP unrepresented.
"And given these developments, it is uncertain whether the Power Purchase Agreement for the project — the agreement CEP had to sell the power to California—remains intact," the two groups said in a news release.
"There are places for wind development but Steens Mountain is not that place," said Brent Fenty, executive director of ONDA.
"Congress set this landscape aside because it contains some of the most important wildlife habitat remaining in the West," Fenty said. "We can't allow it to be fragmented by this short-sighted development."
"If the developer is not even willing to defend the government's decision, Secretary Salazar should not waste taxpayer dollars defending a project that seems increasingly unlikely to ever be built," he added.
"Steens Mountain provides crucial year-round habitat for sage-grouse and other wildlife. This project never should have been approved in the first place and the BLM should take this opportunity to set things right and protect this amazing place," said Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland.
Steens Mountain was protected by Congress in 2000. Prized for its unique ecological and recreational values, the Steens Mountain region is one of the last undeveloped expanses of sagebrush habitat in the entire country. Golden eagles and other raptors would also be severely impacted by the construction of wind turbines on Steens Mountain, according to experts cited by the two groups