By: Kevin Bradshaw, IEF Advisory Council Member
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Open House on Feb. 29 was a demonstration of how the public process to determine the future of a project like Lava Ridge works. The open house showed how the BLM engages with the local community, and that their staff actually does listen and take into account public feedback.
With more than 60 people in attendance, both for and against the wind project, I was struck by how civil everyone was to one another, despite the strong emotions this project has evoked from so many.
Jarod Blades, BLM Idaho Branch Chief Biological Resources, gave a brief, informative presentation on why the agency is seeking public input since there has been a significant increase in interest in clean energy companies and individuals looking to develop projects on land managed by the BLM. Karen Kelleher, BLM Idaho Director, also presented.
The two BLM officers said that the BLM may change how they approach clean energy proposals like Lava Ridge because of the increasing interest in investing in renewable energy in Idaho and other states.
Currently, the process involves three main steps and usually takes years:
- A proposal is presented to the BLM
- The draft EIS is created and the public is engaged
- A decision is made.
That used to work fairly well when applications for projects like Lava Ridge were rare.
Now, the BLM is overloaded with a mountain of applications on top of their work managing public lands, and they are listening to what the people are saying about wanting more involvement. Allowing communities to become more involved before the proposal is submitted; facilitating better communication among the BLM, community members, and the proposer; and building more staff capacity at the BLM to handle the increase in applications are some of the potential solutions.
The proposed change in process of submitting a proposal like Lava Ridge’s would add a step tentatively referred to as the Pre-Application Phase, which would occur before a proposal is submitted to the BLM. The proposer would have a conversation with the BLM to look at the landscape of the proposed project, and discuss resources, resource uses, rights of ways, etc. and identify areas of impact and how to avoid or minimize the impacts to those areas. They would also discuss what would be fair compensation for any impacts.
For example, any proposal that infringes on protected wilderness area would be rejected by the BLM right away, including areas that include prime sage grouse habitat, for example. Other areas would require avoidance and specific measures to protect the sage grouse, which is already the case with the Alternatives proposed for Lava Ridge in the draft EIS. Proposals could be rejected if they have an undue impact on big game migration areas, livestock grazing, and more.
The developer proposing a project would then be required to come up with a plan to mitigate impact. The public would be notified they are considering a project in the area, and the developer would be required to engage with community and stakeholders to gather input and feedback before submitting a proposal for consideration by the BLM. All of this would happen ahead of a draft EIS being released.
Idaho Energy Freedom embraces active, engaged, and informed discussions about clean energy development in Idaho. We hope to continue engaging with the community, the BLM, and clean energy supporters in these important decisions.
Please don’t forget that the comment period for Lava Ridge has been extended to April 20, 2023. Make your voice heard by sending in public comment here.