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Published: Monday, 12/23/2013 - Updated: 10 months ago

BIRD ENTHUSIASTS FEAR WHIRLING BLADES

Opponents fail to halt wind-tower projects

Construction in Ottawa Co. criticized

BY VANESSA McCRAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A 325-foot wind turbine at Lake Erie Business Park in Ottawa County is close to Camp Perry, where the federal government is to fund a planned 198-foot tower. A 325-foot wind turbine at Lake Erie Business Park in Ottawa County is close to Camp Perry, where the federal government is to fund a planned 198-foot tower.
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PORT CLINTON — Two Ottawa County wind turbine projects are proceeding despite protests from birders and warnings about the risk to bald eagles and endangered birds.

The towers, a 198-foot, $1.5 million federally funded turbine to be installed at Camp Perry and a roughly 325-foot tower recently erected at the nearby Lake Erie Business Park, are unrelated but have united opponents, who contend whirling blades don’t belong in the migratory bird region along the lake shore.

“I’m all about green energy. I think it’s great, but not in the wrong place, and that is definitely the wrong place for it,” said Mike Bohling, who owns about 100 acres next to Camp Perry.

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A bald eagle’s nest is about 0.58 mile from that turbine site, and about 60 eagle nests lie within 10 miles, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There also were sightings of the endangered piping plover in April and August on the nearby beach.

Only the Camp Perry project was subject to environmental reviews. Ohio Air National Guard officials said an assessment done on its behalf found the turbine will cause no significant impact, and it will not immediately implement several fish and wildlife service recommendations to reduce risk to migratory birds.

“There’s a process in place, and we’ve followed that process,” said James Sims, a guard spokesman.

In August, Camp Perry released a report stating the impacts to endangered Kirtland’s warblers and piping plovers “are highly implausible” and that eagles “are unlikely to fly at the location where [the] turbine is located because the habitat there is not very suitable for foraging by these birds, nor is it suitable for nesting or resting.”

The tower’s concrete base has been poured, and the 600-kilowatt turbine is scheduled to be erected by the end of February.

It will join solar power as another form of alternative energy available at the base.

A turbine at the Erie Township business park is already standing, though it has not received a final inspection from the Ottawa County Department of Building Inspection.

The project did not trigger the same review as the Camp Perry site because the 900-kilowatt turbine is on private property, the township isn’t zoned, and it slides under the 5-megawatt threshold that prompts certification by the Ohio Power Siting Board.

James McKinney, an owner of the park, did not return calls for comment. The park’s Web site shows drawings for five more turbines, but the county has not received plans for additional towers.

The Fish and Wildlife Service urged Camp Perry to shut off the turbine during the peak spring and fall migration periods, and minimize and shield light near the turbine to limit bird casualties.

Megan Seymour, a wildlife-service biologist, said the agency’s role is only to “provide recommendations and advisory guidelines for how to comply with federal wildlife laws.”

“They are not mandated to follow our guidelines,” she said. “If any of those laws are violated, then they are responsible for that.”

Mr. Sims said Camp Perry will conduct a study in coordination with Bowling Green State University and the University of Toledo to assess the turbine’s first year of operation, from wind-power efficiency to environmental impacts like bird deaths.

Such measures as curtailing hours of operation could be implemented if the study deems it’s warranted.

“Until we are able to gather data on this particular year, it wouldn’t make sense to do those mitigating circumstances if there’s no impact at all,” he said.

A billboard on State Rt. 2 lists some of the reasons that opponents of wind turbines in the area give for their lobbying against projects to harness the wind as an energy source locally. More turbines are proposed, but plans have not been filed with Ottawa County. A billboard on State Rt. 2 lists some of the reasons that opponents of wind turbines in the area give for their lobbying against projects to harness the wind as an energy source locally. More turbines are proposed, but plans have not been filed with Ottawa County.
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Ms. Seymour said monitoring alone does nothing to minimize bird fatalities, and the wildlife service expects migratory birds to be killed.

The Fish and Wildlife Service also disagreed with Camp Perry’s assessment that bald eagle deaths are unlikely, citing the number of nests in the area and the proximity to the lake shore, where eagles migrate and winter.

Turbine operators could seek an eagle-take permit as a precaution should an eagle be killed, but Camp Perry will not apply for one because its environmental assessment didn’t call for that step, Mr. Sims said.

There’s no record of an eagle permit request for the business park site, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Despite the presence of one turbine and the pending addition of another, opponents continue to urge a stop to the projects located in a key bird habitat.

“Birders are incensed that this area could allow wind energy to be developed in the most bird-sensitive area,” said Kim Kaufman, executive director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Oak Harbor.

She expressed frustration that the project is proceeding despite concerns from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the wildlife service.

The bird group is circulating an anti-turbine petition and asking people to contact elected officials.

Western Lake Erie, including the area around Camp Perry, is “very important” for migratory birds, Ms. Seymour said.

“This project could set a precedent for putting small turbines in this area and that is concerning to us as well,” she said.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com, or 419-724-6065, or on Twitter @vanmccray.



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