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Bird fears slow plans for Columbia gorge

A 25 MW wind farm proposed by Zond Systems Inc in Oregon is facing opposition from wildlife officials concerned about bird losses in the Columbia Gorge. The project, to have been considered for county approval at a hearing on March 29, is being proposed for a site in Wasco County. The wind company is not required to get approval from the county, but is doing so before it takes the proposal to the state's energy facility siting council.

Concerns about birds were raised at a hearing on March 7 in Wasco County, says planner Dave Kammerman. "The main tone [of the meeting] was wildlife impacts," he adds. "The real focus is turning to the impact on fish and wildlife." Peregrine falcons -- an endangered species under federal law -- nest both on the Washington and Oregon sides of the gorge, although not closer than within a mile or two of the site, says Kammerman. Eagles and migratory birds also frequent the area, as well as big game in the winter.

Zond had proposed the 50 turbine project, on Sevenmile Hill, hoping to be short-listed for a power contract from Portland General Electric. But now that it has not been chosen, the company is seeking other buyers for the power. Zond is reported to be considering selling the power to private utilities in Oregon or Washington.

However, US Department of Fish & Wildlife (USFWS) officials are threatening to open a criminal investigation in Oregon over wind power and bird kills, according to an internal department memo. The memo, sent by the director of the USFWS in Region One in Oregon, to the director in Washington DC, threatens that bird losses will be documented and submitted to US dttorneys for possible criminal prosecution. We "intend to open criminal investigations and document all losses," states the memo, sent January 21.

It also claims that although wind is an alternative energy, it has "serious environmental issues" because of the current designs of turbines. "We simply would not like to see one problem resolved by creating a problem that could be as serious in nature," continues the memo. Citing a "disturbing high loss of federally protected birds," it urges the director to have the agency take a strong stand on the issue and develop written policy.

In response, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) says the memo misrepresents bird studies. "To suggest 'criminal' activity because of the development of wind turbines is to suggest the same for automobile manufacturers, construction companies, television and radio station owners, etc.," responds AWEA. "Any structure that is built has potential to have birds collide with it (this would include cooling towers for coal or nuclear plants, natural gas pipelines -- even solar panels)."

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