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Published: Sunday, 3/31/2013

TOLEDO MAGAZINE

Turbines put near Lake Erie energize conservation, wind power debate

BY MATT MARKEY AND JEFF BASTING

BLADE ILLUSTRATION/JEFF BASTING Enlarge

Two factions with their foundations firmly anchored in conservation causes are engaged in a standoff along the Lake Erie shoreline.

Wind power advocates have defended the presence of several large turbines and are pressing for the installation of more units.

Those who have fought to preserve and enhance habitat in the marshes and woodlots near the lake for waterfowl, migratory birds, and bald eagles oppose the presence of wind turbines in the environmentally sensitive area and want a protected corridor established there.

The stretch of lakeshore from Sandusky to Toledo has more than a half dozen wildlife areas and refuges, is part of a major flyway for bird migrations, and is home to more than 50 active eagle nests. Three large commercial wind turbines are in place in the same region, and several more are proposed or are on site awaiting construction.

“This is not really about wind power — it’s about putting it in the right place,” said Mark Shieldcastle, who spent three decades with the Ohio Division of Wildlife as an avian biologist. “Putting turbines here is taking something that should be environmentally friendly and turning it into something harmful.”

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Mr. Shieldcastle has serious concerns for the area’s bald eagles, which have rebounded from a low of just four nesting pairs along the lake in 1979. He said erecting any elevated structures in the eagles’ hunting range puts the large raptors in peril.

“We worked so hard to bring back the bald eagles, so it makes no sense to put dangerous obstacles in their path,” he said.

One of the proposed wind turbine sites is at Camp Perry, which also has an active eagle nest. An environmental analysis of the location is ongoing, according to Ohio National Guard spokesman James Sims II.

The Lake Erie Business Park, which sits near Camp Perry and in the same lakeshore strip that holds numerous eagle nests, has been considering wind power projects for several years and reportedly has an approximately 325-foot wind turbine on site and ready for construction. A map on the park’s Web site displaying proposed development at the facility shows six wind turbines.

Megan Seymour, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service stationed in Ohio, said the agency continues to study ways to minimize the impact of wind power projects on birds and other wildlife.

“It could present a high risk to birds, if wind power projects are sited there,” she said, referring to the Ohio shoreline of Lake Erie.

Noel Cutright, founder of the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory in Wisconsin and an expert in the wind power/bird issue, said he urges caution when proposals are put forth to place turbines in sensitive areas.

“We need to look at this on a case-by-case basis, but in general I don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense to place these along the Great Lakes shoreline,” he said.

Mr. Shieldcastle said he does not oppose wind energy, but thinks there are much better places to locate the projects than the western Lake Erie shoreline, which he said is a magnet for migratory birds, waterfowl, and bald eagles.

“You don’t go to the worst site first,” he said.

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


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