Bureau of Land Management is reducing the proposed size of Idaho's controversial wind farm project

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — The federal Bureau of Land Management's preferred alternative to a proposed large-scale wind farm in southern Idaho would reduce its size by nearly half and move it further from a national historic site.

The proposed Lava Ridge wind farm has drawn opposition from government leaders, local farmers and people who have said, among other things, that the project endangers the Minidoka National Historic Site, where Japanese Americans were held during World War II.

The agency detailed its preferred alternative to the original plan in its final environmental analysis released last week. It would reduce the number of wind turbines from 400 to 241 and limit the maximum height of electricity-generating turbines to 201 meters. KTVB-TV reports this.

The plan also places the closest turbine to the historic site 8.7 miles away. The agency said the aim of adjusting the corridor configuration is to “preserve the visitor experience of the remote nature of the former prison site.”

As proposed in 2020, it would have been built within about two miles of the historic site's visitor center. A nonprofit organization, Friends of the Minidoka, is concerned that the project could destroy the experience they want to preserve at the site.

Robyn Achilles, the organization's executive director, said in a statement that this decision disregarded most of the detailed historical research the group provided to the Biden administration to allow them to better protect the historic site was left.

The Biden administration “must do a better job and really commit to protecting Minidoka and our heritage, otherwise we will forever be dealing with Lava Ridge and other projects,” Achilles said.

Idaho Republicans, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson and U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, both expressed continued opposition to the project in social media posts last week.

Risch said he would continue to fight what he called an “unnecessary and poorly produced project.”

The Biden administration has prioritized allowing renewable energy projects on public lands by 2025 as part of its response to climate change. Magic Valley Energy, a subsidiary of New York-based LS Power, has proposed the Lava Ridge energy project and has said it would increase economic activity in the area in part by creating jobs and increasing local government tax revenue.

Luke Papez, senior director of project development at LS Power, said in a statement that the agency's new preferred alternative appears to strike an appropriate balance between the protection of natural resources and the need for additional domestic energy production.

The Bureau of Land Management released its report draft environmental impact assessment in early 2023 with two preferred alternatives. A 90-day comment period subsequently generated more than 11,000 public comments and 1,400 exploratory comments, officials said.

The final environmental study's preferred alternative reduces the “affected area” by nearly 50%, from 8,395 acres to 4,492 acres (3,397 hectares to 1,817 hectares).

“The preferred alternative also reduces potential impacts to sage grouse, major wildlife migration corridors and winter concentration areas, cultural resources, Jerome County Airport and agricultural aviation uses, public land ranchers, and adjacent private landowners,” This is stated in the BLM press release.

If the new preferred alternative is selected, BLM estimates that construction of the project will generate $21.9 million in annual tax revenue and contribute $138.9 million to total economic output.

The BLM said the preferred alternative was created through collaboration with landowners, ranchers, tribal nations, federal, state and county elected leaders, organizations, the BLM's Resource Advisory Council for the area and the National Park Service.

Without any changes, the Bureau of Land Management's preferred alternative would be finalized in July.

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