ROGERSON • It’s unlikely a sage grouse would win a popularity contest these days.
The endangered species candidate is ruffling a few more feathers by being the main reason behind a two-year delay on a federal agency’s decision on the China Mountain Wind Project.
The wind energy project would straddle the Idaho and Nevada border in a wind-rich area with ample room for the proposed 170 wind turbines on 25,500 public acres. However, it’s also home to some of the bird’s most critical habitat.
“The large reason for the delay is because it’s going to encompass so much public land on priority sage grouse habitat,” said Jessica Gardetto, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management office in Boise.
In 2010, federal officials decided sage grouse warranted protection provided by the Endangered Species Act, but they won’t officially decide whether to list the bird until 2015.
The BLM now has three years to improve its sage grouse conservation efforts and also prove it can sustain the bird’s habitat. One way the agency plans to do this in Idaho is by taking the next two years to finish amending its management plan for the Jarbidge area, Gardetto said.
RES Americas, the wind project’s developer, offered only brief comment on its reaction to the federal agency’s decision.
“We’re disappointed and we’re weighing our options,” said Suzanne Leta Liou, spokeswoman for the Colorado-based company.
Leta Liou declined to comment how the delay would affect RES Americas or if the company will fight the agency’s decision.
The BLM’s decision isn’t resting easy with Twin Falls County commissioners either. Commissioner Terry Kramer said the agency’s decision came as a surprise.
“Of course we’re disappointed that the decision isn’t coming forward,” Kramer said. “I would love to see the wind turbines up there. They generate money and produce green energy, but you have to make sure they don’t have negative effects on the area.”
BLM’s decision will delay economic opportunity for Twin Falls and Elko counties, Kramer said. The project was estimated to bring in 750 temporary construction jobs and almost 50 permanent jobs.
“I think it’s prudent that the BLM takes the time to look into this project, but gosh, we would like to see it developed,” he said.
For others, like Shoshone Basin Local Working Group member Rich Yankey, the delay will allow more time study China Mountain’s impact on grouse habitat.
Yankey isn’t opposed to energy development, but said constructing the project could cause the most harm to the land.
“They talk about rehab in that area after they’re done, but it’s pretty hard once a road is put in to keep the rest of the public off of it,” he said. “It’s just not the company that you have to consider, but the secondary effects.”
Even building temporary roads requires destroying a sizable amount of terrain, Yankey said.
“A project of that size and magnitude needs to be thoroughly studied,” he said. “It gives everybody a chance to see if there are other alternatives that would be better than what’s being offered now.”