A federal appeals court approved the construction of a private road across federal land Wednesday to access a wind farm project over the objections of conservation groups concerned about endangered California condors and desert tortoise.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) did not need to seek environmental review before it approved a road to a private 12-000-acre wind farm in Sierra Nevada range north of Tehachapi.
Even though the road is built and the turbines are running, the Sierra Club and other conservation groups argued the BLM was required under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to reconsider its right-of-way permit issued in 2012 for North Sky River Energy to build a road to access the wind farm on private land.
The groups argued the NSRE plan to operate 102 wind turbines will inevitably kill birds that fly into the blades. They argued that violates the ESA.
The BLM found no condors were in the area.
The BLM informally consulted with the U.S. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife before it issued the permit in order to assess the impact on the desert tortoise and Condor, according to the court. The BLM determined that the wind farm owners could build an alternate road across private land that would be longer, more disruptive to the environment and require significantly more roadwork.
The wind farm was a viable project with or without the right-of-way over federal land Judge Johnnie Rawlinson wrote for the panel.
“The road project served the independent purposes of dust control, reducing erosion, and controlling unauthorized vehicle access to a national [Pacific Crest] trail,” she said.
Case: Sierra Club v. Bureau of Land Management, No. 13-15383