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Transmission & Streaming Disruptions

BLM withdraws approval of wind development project after conservancy group petitions for review

Windmills in Wyoming
James Vislosky
A group of wind turbines in Albany County

Albany County Commissioners initially gave the Rock Creek Wind Gen-Tie transmission line, under construction in southeast Wyoming, a green light. But the Albany County Conservancy petitioned the BLM in federal court over that issue. The BLM voluntarily put the project on hold before it could move to trial.

Anne Brande, head of the organization, said the initial studies insufficiently address the potential impact to migratory wildlife and proposed lands, bringing the project close to the Bamforth National Wildlife Refuge, waterways and migration paths for Wyoming wildlife.

“So this is very important to wildlife that migrate through this section of the Rocky Mountains because it provides them reprieve from a high desert ecosystem where they're going to rest, recharge, maybe have their young, because there's water.” said Brande

Brande identified species like the pronghorn and mule deer who could have their paths disrupted by transmission lines. She’s also concerned that bird populations could suffer strikes from conventional wind designs. Golden and bald eagles have already found themselves in the center of the debate around climate change risks, green energy development, and animal preservation.

The PacifiCorp wind-power transmission line reaches across private, and public lands. It’s similar in scope and aim to the Two Rivers Wind Development, a project in which the BLM released an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and held a public comment period. The Rock Creek project was not given an EIS, but instead received an Environmental Assessment (EA). The assessment identified a number of protected species that are within at least one mile of the project area. However, the conclusion of the EA found that “the incremental contribution to cumulative effects on special status wildlife from the Proposed Action are expected to be minor.”

Field Manager Timothy Novotny of the Rawlins BLM field office considered this EA when he stated, “I hereby affirm that the proposed action would not result in significant effects and therefore preparation of an environmental impact statement is not required” in a March 2023 BLM Rawlins review of the Environmental Assessment.

But Anne Brande and the ACC argued that under the National Environmental Protection Act, the same public comment period and EIS had to be carried out for the Rock Creek Wind power.

“That gets to how then the federal government is tasked with taking in information about wildlife that’s specific to the area, what imperiled species are in the area, what endangered species are in the area – does that area involve a riparian area waterway? – they're supposed to look at…the ecology, and the wildlife in that zone and get public comment in regards to that,” said Anne.

In response to the group’s legal challenge, the BLM withdrew their approval of the project’s right-of-way and opened a public comment period that runs through January.

James M. Fisher of the Rawlins field office said that details on a public comment period for the Rock Creek Wind-Gen powerline will be released soon.

While Brande is satisfied with the results of her nonprofit’s lawsuit, she still urges people to get involved in managing the lands around the community they live in.

“It's just getting engaged and getting involved…You need to manage what you have. And if it's public, that responsibility falls on you. You should not expect that a nonprofit is gonna keep your interests at heart,” said Brande.

Jordan Uplinger was born in NJ but has traveled since 2013 for academic study and work in Oklahoma, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He gained experience in a multitude of areas, including general aviation, video editing, and political science. In 2021, Jordan's travels brought him to find work with the Wyoming Conservation Corps as a member of Americorps. After a season with WCC, Jordan continued his Americorps service with the local non-profit, Feeding Laramie Valley. His deep interest in the national discourse on class, identity, American politics and the state of material conditions globally has led him to his current internship with Wyoming Public Radio and NPR.
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