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Published: Sunday, 10/21/2012

Camp Perry wind turbine: A green, sensibly green issue

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

PORT CLINTON — It did not take much time before the long knives were brandished.

Once the bird advocates went public with their objections to a proposed wind turbine at Camp Perry, they started taking fire, and it was neither friendly, nor fair.

A few alternative energy zealots appear to be averse to any discussion, questions, or criticism about huge metal towers and their whirling blades.

They took what was actually review and debate on the subject and turned it into instant polarization, which seems to be our most abundant unnatural resource these days.

For a lot of reasons, this should never have happened.

A wind turbine project at the camp was shelved back in 2007, but the conservationists who have made it their life’s work to improve the habitat along Lake Erie for migratory birds including rare warblers, water birds, shore birds, and raptors such as bald eagles, apparently got wind of the proposal being floated again recently, through some less than direct channels.

The news stung like a double-shot from a Taser.

The first hit came from the image of that nearly 200-foot tall wind turbine even being considered for the military base, which is in the heart of a region that serves as a superhighway flight path for a wide range of birds.

The second sharp poke involved the fact the experts at Black Swamp Bird Observatory, who are practically neighbors with the camp along State Route 2, were not consulted about the potential impact that such an imposing structure and its moving parts might have on the feathered frequent flyers.

Reeling from the fear the project might progress to the point of no return while essentially tucked out of the public eye behind the gates of the 640-acre military site, the birders sounded the alarm.

Since that area along the lake is regarded as “globally important” bird habitat, some experts in the birding field are calling Camp Perry “the worst possible site” for a turbine.

“This makes no sense,” said Kim Kaufman, executive director at Black Swamp, whose “Biggest Week in American Birding” last spring attracted about 75,000 birders and gave the whole region an economic booster shot.

“Putting a wind turbine here flies in the face of everything we have worked for to protect birds and to promote this area and birding.”

Mark Shieldcastle is one of the most respected voices in the region on the subjects of bald eagles, habitat along the lake, and the unique nature of the flyway corridor. His 30-plus years as a Division of Wildlife biologist specializing in avian research carry the same weight as a general walking into the room with a chest full of medals.

Shieldcastle, who now conducts research for BSBO, dedicated a lot of his career to restoring the once crippled bald eagle population along the lakeshore.

He has expressed serious concerns about the wind turbine killing bald eagles, because it would be located in one of the highest concentrations of bald eagles in the nation, outside of Alaska.

But once the rational and reasonable objections of individuals such as Kaufman and Shieldcastle were aired, they were attacked on message boards and comment streams for daring to question the wind turbine’s location.

They were accused of “spreading lies” and of being funded by some “pathetic organization.”

Other equally ridiculous assaults charged them with being backed by “conservative thinktanks” that were out to destroy “[President] Obama’s clean energy strategy”.

There is no evidence that anyone involved in the formal wind turbine discussion from the bird side has ever said “no” to green energy or “no” to wind power.

They just said “not here” and then suggested viable alternate sites.

That didn’t seem to matter. The critics of the birding interests appear to be taking the extremely strident position that when it comes to alternative energy, you have to be “all in,” any place and any time, with no exceptions, in order to be officially “green.”

Kelly Fuller, who is the wind campaign coordinator for the American Bird Conservancy, said the conflict over the Camp Perry turbine is part of a disturbing national trend.

“If you say anything about wind energy other than unabashed cheerleading, you get attacked,” said Fuller, whose organization, based just outside of Washington, works to conserve native birds and their habitat across the continent.

Fuller said the American Bird Conservancy has not yet completed a detailed evaluation of the proposal to locate the large wind turbine at Camp Perry, but she is familiar with the Lake Erie marshes and the vital role they play in bird migration and in providing bald eagle habitat and nesting areas.

“We support wind energy, as long as it’s bird-smart,” she said.

“Wind energy has a place, but these turbines have to be located at sites where they are not going to be killing a lot of birds. In the case of Ohio, there are other places they can go with these turbines, but on the Lake Erie coastline, especially on the western end of the lake – this is one of the worst spots you could choose.”

Camp Perry already has a large solar array that is providing a portion of the power needs of the base.

If you are puzzled over the wisdom behind adding a nearly 200-foot tall wind turbine in an area that is a major flyway for migrating birds, an area that also has 60 bald eagle nests, that does not make you anti-green.

At their core, the folks fighting for bird habitat and bird awareness along the lake are greener than that jolly gigantic fellow on the label of those frozen vegetables.

All these people appear to be asking is that we just be sensibly green.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.



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