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United States

Dormant site falls victim again -- More complaining in Columbia Hills

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An inactive wind project in the Columbia Hills above Oregon and Washington's Columbia River has again come under attack from environmentalists and Native American Indians. The Columbia River Gorge chapter of the National Audubon Society has joined with Greenaction of San Francisco and members of the Indigenous Support Coalition of Oregon to begin a national campaign opposing a potential 230 MW project by Enron Wind.

The two 115 MW wind plants were originally conceived by now bankrupt Kenetech Windpower, and opposing groups have garnered media attention regularly for more than three years (Windpower Monthly, December 1998). Court action is still pending should Enron ever revive the project.

This time, the negative campaign began at two gatherings in Portland, Oregon, in February. "All three of these groups support the development of renewable resources, especially wind power," says Dennis White of Columbia Hills Audubon. "It's just that this site is wrong for wind. The wind turbines would impact environmental and scenic aesthetics, as well as both native and non-native cultural sites. We want to start a public awareness campaign early on so we don't get hit broadside."

Sacred sites

White says the groups have tried to talk with Enron, but the company has been unresponsive, and that has caused anxiety and uncertainty. "Energy cannot be green when it is generated at the expense of sacred sites that are dear to our people and our beliefs," says Johnny Jackson, hereditary chief of the Yakama Band of the Cascade-Klickitat tribe. Enron Wind's Mary McCann confirms the project is on hold but not dead.

The opposition is coming at a time when no critical decisions are being made and no permitting is going on, points out Rachel Shimshack of another regional environmentalist group, Renewable Northwest. The opposing groups have confused the issue by lumping Enron's sites together with two much smaller proposals -- one of which, a 25 MW project proposed by the Conservation and Renewable Energy System (CARES), was abandoned, she adds. Enron bought only those leases that covered areas which the US Fish and Wildlife Agency has given a "no jeopardy" judgement on its assessment of the wind development, says Shimshack.

White counters that all of the Columbia Hills is a breeding and wintering area for golden and bald eagles and other raptors, and the National Audubon Society has dubbed the area "important." Shimshack insists the project is located in an area that is not a major flyway for birds, and modern turbine design itself mitigates many worries about raptor survival.

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