US judge blocks work at Nevada geothermal power plant for 90 days | Nevada News


By SCOTT SONNER, Associated Press

RENO, Nevada (AP) – A federal judge on Tuesday said he intended to temporarily block all construction work for 90 days at a geothermal power plant project in Nevada that opponents say would destroy a sacred tribal site and could lead to the extinction of a rare toad considered for the protection of endangered species.

U.S. District Judge Robert C. Jones has said he will deny a longer injunction request sought by tribal leaders and conservationists who have allegedly banned all activity at the site until he can hear all the arguments and rule on the merits of a lawsuit they last filed. month.

But he explained that the 90-day restraining order would give them the opportunity to appeal his ruling to the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals in a complicated legal case pitting renewable energy production against protection. environmental and cultural resources.

A formal written order will follow in the coming days, but Jones said Tuesday at the end of a two-and-a-half-hour hearing in federal court in Reno: “I’ve made my decision.”

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“I will stop construction and move forward for 90 days. This will give complainants the opportunity to go to the court of appeal, ”he said.

Reno-based Ormat Technologies Inc. intended to begin bulldozing work this week at the site in the high desert of northern Nevada, about 100 miles northeast of Reno.

The Dec. 15 lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe said the project would transform a “virgin and unique location of ecological value and spiritual significance” into an industrial site.

He accuses the US Bureau of Land Management of illegally approving the Ormat project in Dixie Meadows, about 40 miles northeast of Fallon, without the necessary environmental scan. He also said the agency violated the law on restoring religious freedom.

Jones said granting a preliminary injunction to block all activity at the site beyond the 90 days would have forced him to conclude that the tribe and conservationists have a likelihood of ultimately winning out. the merits of their arguments.

“I am not yet convinced that there is a high probability of winning over substance,” he said.

Formed by natural sources, Dixie Meadows is a critical wetland ecosystem in a desert oasis that is home to the Dixie Valley toad found nowhere else in the world, according to the lawsuit.

Tribal chiefs argued that their ancestors had lived in the Dixie Valley area for thousands of years and have long recognized the hot springs as “a sacred place of healing and reflection.”

The bureau said when announcing approval of the project in November that the two 30-megawatt geothermal power plants would help Nevada meet its renewable energy portfolio requirement that state utilities should procure 25 % of their energy from renewable sources by 2025.

Ormat maintains that he has already invested $ 68 million in the project and that any delay could put it in jeopardy.

“Even a few weeks of delay in the construction of this project (…) can be catastrophic for the financial viability of the project,” the company said in recent court records.

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