National Guard scraps Ohio turbine project after enviros threaten lawsuit

Source: Scott Streater, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Ohio Air National Guard has decided to formally withdraw plans to build a wind turbine along the shores of Lake Erie in one of the largest bird migration corridors in North America after a national bird conservation group threatened to sue.

A top Air Force official informed lawyers representing the American Bird Conservancy and the Oak Harbor, Ohio-based Black Swamp Bird Observatory that the National Guard is scrapping plans to build the wind turbine at its Camp Perry facility near Port Clinton in northern Ohio.

The Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal earlier this month sent a notice of intent to sue the Ohio Air National Guard, challenging the results of an environmental assessment of the project and a subsequent finding of no significant impact (FONSI) released in August that cleared the way for the turbine to be built.

The two groups say the Air National Guard skirted federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act, by not properly analyzing the impacts of the nearly 200-foot-tall wind turbine on a host of sensitive avian species, including bald eagles and federally endangered Kirtland’s warblers and piping plovers (E&ENews PM, Jan. 8).

“After carefully considering your objections to the August 22, 2013 Finding of No Significant Impact, for the wind turbine technologies projects at the Camp Perry Air National Guard Station, I have decided to withdraw the FONSI for the project effective immediately,” Col. Peter Sartori, director of installations and mission support, wrote in a one-page letter to William Eubanks with Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal.

Sartori indicated that the environmental assessment could be revisited at a later date but added, “Since the FONSI has been withdrawn, the project will not go forward at this time.”

Kimberly Kaufman, executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, said the group is “absolutely elated” the project has been halted.

“By indefinitely suspending this project, the agency has validated the serious environmental concerns raised in our letter and ensured that Lake Erie’s migratory bird populations will continue to be afforded their rightful protections under the law,” Eubanks, the groups’ lead attorney on the matter, added in a statement.

The proposed wind turbine had been a source of controversy for some time.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has expressed concerns about the environmental evaluation of the turbine at Camp Perry and its impacts on sensitive avian species, particularly bald eagles.

Mary Knapp, an FWS field supervisor in Ohio, recently disputed claims by the Air National Guard that the project would likely not kill or harm bald eagles.

Knapp, in a Sept. 10 letter to Ohio Air National Guard Capt. Roger Nienberg, noted that a bald eagle nest exists about a half-mile from the proposed turbine site and that “there are approximately 60 eagle nests within 10 miles of the project area, and the Camp Perry property is located on the shore of Lake Erie, along which bald eagles are expected to migrate and winter.”

“Though the Service requested site-specific eagle monitoring following a standardized protocol, this was not conducted, therefore we are unable to quantify potential risk to bald eagles,” Knapp wrote. “However, based on the presence of important eagle use areas nearby, we believe operation of the turbine could result in take of bald eagles.”

She added that it was up to the Air National Guard to apply to Fish and Wildlife for an eagle take permit “or assume the risk of violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.”

American Bird Conservancy officials said their group supports the development of wind and other renewable energy sources but that they must be sited correctly.

ABC has developed what it calls a “Wind Development Bird Risk Map” that it says shows the Lake Erie shoreline in Ohio to be among the worst possible locations for a wind power project. The configuration of water and land, according to the group, serves to funnel large numbers of protected migratory birds through a small area.

The Air Force’s decision to halt the wind project “sends a strong message to other wind energy developers in this ecologically sensitive region that conservationists will be closely watching their actions. This is a heartening victory for the environment and for birds,” said Michael Hutchins, the national coordinator for ABC’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign. “While we support wind energy as a sustainable energy source, we insist that turbines be sited where their impacts to birds and other wildlife can be minimized. This project was among the worst we have seen in that regard. We applaud the government’s decision to reconsider this project.”