Murrelet may be in way of Pacific County wind farm

PACIFIC COUNTY, WASHINGTON - Energy Northwest is proposing to build a wind farm on Radar Ridge near Naselle, but opponents worry about the fate of federally protected marbled murrelet.

The proposed wind project in Pacific County would be within the flight path of the robin-sized seabird, which was listed as threatened in 1992. The ridge sits between the ocean and the only marbled murrelet nesting area left in southwest Washington.

"If you wanted to have an issue with marbled murrelets, you couldn't have picked a better place," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Doug Zimmer told The Daily News of Longview.

Energy Northwest wants to install as many as 32 wind turbines on land leased from the state Department of Natural Resources.

The proposed project could produce as much as 82 megawatts of energy.

Public utilities in Pacific, Grays Harbor, Clallam and Mason counties are sharing in development costs, which total nearly $1.7 million so far.

Advocates say the project would create jobs and help utilities meet the requirements Initiative 937, which directs utilities with more than 25,000 customers to get 15 percent of their power from new sources like wind or solar by 2020.

The project would be a boon to Pacific County, said Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond. "The investment would be incredible," he added.

"That wind farm is a great idea," Rep. Dean Takko, D-Longview. "It's got all the good things going for it, except for that little bird."

Takko, Hatfield and others say worries about the marbled murrelet are overblown. They also complain that while some environmentalists demand wind power, others want to block it.

Energy Northwest knew marbled murrelets lived around the ridge when it selected the site, said spokeswoman Rochelle Olson. So far, studies by a consultant hired by Energy Northwest show "extremely low murrelet activity in the immediate vicinity of the proposed turbine sites," she added.

Environmentalists such as the Pacific Seabird Group say the project could put the already declining marbled murrelet population at risk.

"It poses an unacceptable risk," said wildlife biologist Paula Swedeen, a private consultant who was part of a panel advising DNR on managing its lands to protect the marbled murrelet. "Because the population is not in very good shape right now, even a low-level of mortality can have a deleterious impact on the population."

Biologists have identified 89 marbled murrelet nests in southwest Washington.

The number of birds on the West Coast has declined from 24,400 to 18,00 since 2000, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife estimates.

"We have made our concerns known, and we don't want to get into a situation where we have take," said Zimmer, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife. "This is not like taking the occasional crow."



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