U.S. Forest Service critical to geothermal project proposed in Idaho

Salmon, Idaho (source: flickr/ Sam Beebe, creative commons)
Alexander Richter 11 Mar 2018

The U.S. Forest Service is asking for a denial of a lease for the development of a geothermal power plant at Salmon River in the Salmon-Challis National Forest in Idaho.

Last week, it was reported that the U.S. Forest Service in a final environmental impact statement issued March 2, 2018 is asking for denying a lease to develop a geothermal power plant at a hot springs near the confluence of the Salmon River and Panther Creek, about 20 miles northwest of the town of Salmon in Idaho.

The Salmon-Challis National Forest is located in east central sections of the U.S. state of Idaho. At 4,235,940 acres it is one of the largest national forests in the lower 48 states in the U.S.

The project is proposed by Ormat Technologies that wants to develop a geothermal power plant on a nine-square mile site.  The initial 10-year lease would confer only the exclusive right to develop the geothermal resource. Prior to any ground-disturbing activities, the company would have to submit additional applications.

In March 2017, the Forest Service released a draft environmental impact statement with a preferred alternative to grant the lease but with very restrictive conditions. In December, however, forest Supervisor Charles Mark issued a draft decision to deny the lease entirely. A final environmental impact statement was issued March 2, with a preferred alternative of denying the lease.

The draft record of decision states that the hot springs are one of the most popular recreation amenities on the Salmon-Challis National Forest. It notes that the project area borders the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and that a portion of Panther Creek is eligible for recreational classification in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Furthermore, the decision noted, the Shoshone-Bannock and Nez Perce tribes view hot springs as sacred, and Native Americans have used the Big Creek Hot Springs for millennia.

The decision stated that commenters, in particular local landowners, have been consistent in their opposition to any geothermal development in the Big Creek area. The Forest Service received 24 comment letters from 17 individuals with various affiliations, the agency stated in the final EIS.

The final EIS is available online at

Objections to the proposed decision are limited to people who filed comments in response to the draft EIS. Details via link below.

Source: Idaho Mountain Express