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Latest wind farm proposal angers Benton residents

June 13, 2011

A possible wind farm near Benton has some area residents up in arms, especially nearby property owners.
The proposed project is still at the preliminary stage, with only a few test towers (six) planned and with full approval by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) still not certain.

But with the potential for many more of the 200-foot-tall wind towers coming on line (should the test towers show good results) some residents are none too pleased with the whole idea.

“This is one of the most important habitats for birds in the county,” said Emmy Cattani, an owner of the Adobe Ranch, located northwest of Benton.

Cattani said the group of families that owns the working ranch has put thousands of dollars into restoring wildlife habitat and wetlands. She is worried that wind energy is not compatible with these uses.

“We didn’t find out about this until we got letters in the mail and now the BLM wants the comment period to end by June 20,” said Benton resident Donna Smalley.

“There are places where wind energy is appropriate, but this is not one of them.”

Smalley said about 20 people attended a BLM meeting for the project Monday night and were not happy with the idea.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” she said.

The project is proposed for an area just south of East S.R. 120 where it swings east from U.S. 395 and heads toward Benton.

The several proposed sites lie at the base of the Glass Mountains, and in the surrounding areas, where Taylor Canyon, Wet Canyon and other perennial streams drain the mountains and cut big, red-rocked gorges into the soft volcanic rock.

Along with the streams, an ephemeral lake called Black Lake makes the area highly important to wildlife, including sage grouse and bald eagles. Some of the proposed sites also abut the Mono Lake Scenic Area and Granite Mountain Wilderness Area.

The experimental towers could be built as soon as this summer, if the BLM grants the project a “categorical exclusion.” The agency is required by law to consider alternative energy resource applications, just like it must consider applications for coal, oil and gas. This categorical exclusion, sould ti be granted, would legally allow the agency to bypass the full National Environmental Policy Act requirement for a more detailed environmental analysis process. Should the test towers show good yield, a full-scale wind tower project could be proposed for the area. That process would then require a full environmental analysis under NEPA, a process that could take several years.

Some residents of the area told the MT that they had heard that the BLM would consider changing the comment date but confirmation of this was not available at press time.

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