TWIN FALLS — Could a wind project affect 911 communications?
State and local agencies have expressed concerns that the Lava Ridge Wind Project could interfere with emergency communications.
An up to 400-turbine operation on 73,000 acres of public land in south-central Idaho, the Lava Ridge Wind Project is moving through the Environmental Impact Statement process. Required by U.S. environmental law, the first step is public scoping, the period when agencies, organizations and individuals can submit comments about the project.
More than 1,400 comments were submitted regarding the Lava Ridge Wind Project. Of those comments, 96% were from individuals, 3% from organizations, and 1% from agencies.
Southern Idaho Regional Communications Center—SIRCOMM—and Project Mutual Telephone both expressed concerns that the project could interfere with their operations.
“I spent 32 years in law enforcement. Sometimes you only have one chance to key a mic and ask for assistance on a situation, you might not get another opportunity to do that,” said Twin Falls County Commissioner Jack Johnson, who serves on the SIRCOMM Joint Powers Board. “If that one chance you have is blocked or interfered with, that could be a life threatening situation.”
The Idaho Military Division, which contains the Idaho Office of Emergency Management, also submitted a public comment regarding microwave radio transmission paths.
“The services carried on these paths are vital as they service statewide emergency services, law enforcement, federal/state/county agency customers,” the division wrote. “Any interruption or degradation of signal would be detrimental and will not be allowed to happen.”
SIRCOMM dispatches emergency services for 41 different agencies across four counties. The center also works with Idaho State Police, public works departments, street and highway departments, county disaster services and more.
The center wrote that compromised coverage discovered during the construction phase could “prove disastrous.”
“Once compromise has been realized, efforts to repair the compromise may not be swift enough to avoid the disruption of emergency services to that region, which could impact human life and safety,” SIRCOMM wrote.
Johnson said there have been previous communications issues in the general area of the project proposal. Geography and atmospheric conditions can impact transmission.
“It’s already hard for emergency services to communicate in that area,” he said.
Magic Valley Energy hired a third party to complete a land mobile emergency services report. In May, SIRCOMM received the report, which included a list of recommendations.
Johnson said some of the options included adding a new repeater site or optimizing a base station, which might not be financially feasible. Repeater towers allow stations that are not within line-of-sight range to communicate.
“It may therefore be appropriate to begin consideration and discussion about whether these potential costs should be part of overall project expense,” SIRCOMM wrote in its public comment.
Idaho Transportation Department
American Bird Conservancy
Magic Valley ATV Riders
Idaho Chapter of Safari Club International
Twin Falls County Historic Preservation Commission