SDG&E GETS VARIANCE TO WORK DURING START OF EAGLE NESTING SEASON

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New nesting pair found near McCain Valley, an ECM reader reports

By Miriam Raftery

December 4, 2011 (San Diego’s East County) – San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) has been granted a variance to continue flights within 4,000 feet of golden eagle nests through December 7 and, in the event of exceptional unforeseen circumstances, as late as December 15 for completion of Sunrise Powerlink work.

That’s two weeks after the original November 30 deadline to halt construction due to eagle nesting season.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and California Public Utilities (CPUC) have approved a variance for BLM and private lands in the Barrett/Echo area. Additional variances are expected to be decided this week by the U.S. Forest Service for three additional areas: El Cajon (El Capitan) Mountain, Bell Bluff, and Thing Valley.
 

SDG&E blames high wind conditions on Thanksgiving weekend and noise limitations by the County as reasons why the extension is needed. Critics have contended that SDG&E caused numerous prior delays due to having its helicopters grounded due to safety violations and flying too close to eagle nests during nesting season last spring.
 

Billie Blanchard, CPUC Environmental Project Manager for Sunrise Powerlink, stated in a December 2 letter to Alan Colton, manager of Environmental Services on Sunrise Powerlink, that SDG&E proposed additional measures to limit interference with golden eagle breeding activities. These include additional monitoring by experts and granting authority to the lead eagle expert to shut down work immediately if golden eagle breeding activity is disturbed.
 

Blanchard’s letter also states that “nest building typically does not begin in earnest until late December/early January and egg laying does not typically occur at this latititude until the last couple of weeks of January (at the earliest).” He cites a CNF Pilot Raptor Management Program which confirms nesting season starts December 15.
 

SDG&E has stated that it anticipates being able to complete work by December 7, barring unforeseen issues. Work will include pulling wires through towers and installing safety balls on wires for aviation protection. Most work is expected to be completed using light or medium lift helicopters, not the heavy-lift sky cranes. Some routes are also being adjusted to fly primarily over the power lines, minimizing flights near nests.

In addition, the U.S. Forest Service has ordered SDG&E to install additional line markers to minimize future avian collisions, including eagles, with the high-voltage power lines.
 

Amid news of the variance and concerns locally over disturbance of eagles during nesting season, ECM readers Charles and Laurie Baker have notified ECM that they have discovered what appears to be a new pair of golden eagles nesting in a rocky cliff above McCain Valley.

They forwarded photos showing the pair in flight, as well as a cave filled with droppings from the duo and a pile of bones below from animals that the eagles have eaten.

With only 48 nesting pairs known to exist in San Diego County, the find is significant. Eagles mate for life, so the loss of even a single bird can significantly impact the population.
 

The sightings have been confirmed by the Aubudon Society, according to Laurie Baker, who added that Aubudon will be submitting information on the newly discovered eagles in comments on the proposed Tule Wind Farm project in the region. Wind turbines have killed many eagles in other areas, heightening concerns locally over growing threats to these federally protected birds of prey.
 


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