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BLM says final Lava Ridge EIS reflects community feedback, but critics remain skeptical

A hand-drawn banner says "Stop Lava Ridge" on the side of a road in Jerome County.
Rachel Cohen
/
Boise State Public Radio
Signs opposing the Lava Ridge Wind Farm scatter farm fields on the road from the highway to the Minidoka National Historic Site.

The Bureau of Land Management has issued its final environmental review (Final EIS) on the controversial Lava Ridge wind project in South Central Idaho. The agency said its preference reflects the many comments it heard from the public, but critics remain skeptical.

In the final review, the BLM lays out its preferred alternative: it would disturb nearly 4,500 hundred acres, allow for the construction of 241 turbines and cap their height at 660 feet. The proposal originally submitted by developer Magic Valley Energy (MVE) would have included up to 400 3-megawatt turbines as high as 740 feet and would have disturbed over 9,000 acres, according to a summary of the final environmental impact statement (FEIS). The full Final EIS can be found here.

Luke Papez, senior director of project development for LS Power, of which MVE is a subsidiary, said in a written statement that the BLM’s preferred alternative “appears to strike an appropriate balance between the protection of environmental resources and the need for additional domestic energy production.”

The BLM said their preference was “shaped by public input and meetings” and “significant engagement” with ranchers, Tribal Nations, elected officials and many others.

But Ben Crouch, a commissioner for Jerome County, still has many concerns, like potential impacts to ranching, water supplies and regional airports. The project would be in parts of Jerome, Minidoka, and Lincoln counties.

“It's our public lands and we don't really have a say in it, on what they're doing,” he said. “We've had our say, but they're not listening to it is how I would phrase that.”

His and six other Idaho counties signed a joint resolution opposing the project last year, according to reporting in the Times-News. That move was unanimously supported by the state legislature. Crouch said his county intends to sue over the project. Jerome County has set aside $10,000 for any legal action and is hoping to enlist the support of others.

U.S. Senator Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican, condemned the BLM’s decision, saying that “Idahoans could not be more clear that they do not support Lava Ridge. Yet, for some reason, the BLM continues to push forward this project that no one in Idaho wants.”

There has also been fervent opposition from Japanese Americans who object to possible impacts to the U.S. National Park Service-managed Minidoka National Historic Site, where 13,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II. In 1988, the U.S. government formally acknowledged the “fundamental injustice” of Japanese internment at sites like Minidoka and provided $20,000 to all those incarcerated.

“Approving the wind farm reflects a refusal to preserve these hallowed lands, where Japanese Americans were sent after being forced to leave their homes and placed in concentration camps, marking one of the largest unconstitutional forced removals in U.S. history,” the group Friends of Minidoka said in a statement on the Final EIS.

“The construction of a wind farm consisting of hundreds wind turbines standing as high as 660 feet tall will damage the setting and feeling of the site as our forebears lived it,” reads a similar statement from the Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee, a group of camp survivors and their descendants who organize regular visits to the former internment camp.

Committee leader and Minidoka survivor descendant Erin Shigaki called the proposal “unconscionable.”

In a statement on the Final EIS, the BLM said the nearest turbine in its preferred alternative would be nine miles away from the historic site. In an agency rendering of how the view from Minidoka would change under its preferred plan, a visible but distant row of turbines can be made out on the horizon. You can view those images here.

The Final EIS comes as the Biden administration is working to massively expand clean energy development on public lands to stave off the worst effects of climate change. Lava Ridge would be Idaho’s first such project.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

As Boise State Public Radio's Mountain West News Bureau reporter, I try to leverage my past experience as a wildland firefighter to provide listeners with informed coverage of a number of key issues in wildland fire. I’m especially interested in efforts to improve the famously challenging and dangerous working conditions on the fireline.