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Bird groups say Camp Perry turbine plans violate law

Plans to install a wind turbine at Camp Perry may be headed to court as the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Oak Harbor and a national conservation organization have jointly said they intend to file suit against the Ohio National Guard, contending federal law protecting wildlife is being violated.

The BSBO and American Bird Conservancy say an environmental review process has been circumvented and the proposed wind project is violating the Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

If completed, the Ohio National Guard’s plan to erect a turbine at the camp poses a threat to endangered species such as Piping Plover and Kirtland’s Warbler as well as other federally protected birds, said Dr. Michael Hutchins, national coordinator of ABC’s bird smart energy campaign.

“We are asking the developer to immediately halt construction and take the steps mandated by federal law to prevent the illegal killing of protected species,” he said. “The proposed development of wind power at Camp Perry ignores the many concerns expressed by wildlife professionals in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

He said the turbine would sit in the middle of a major bird migration route that is adjacent to a national wildlife refuge.

The bird observatory and conservancy stated their intent to sue in a Jan. 8 letter to Capt. Roger Nienberg, of the Ohio National Guard Red Horse Squadron at Camp Perry, Deborah James, Secretary of the Air Force, Dan Ashe, director the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, and Gen. Mark Welsh III, Air Force Chief of Staff.

A public interest law firm, Meyer Giltzenstein & Crystal, based in Washington, D.C., submitted the letter to the officials.

It asks for an “adequate response” by Jan. 20.

“It is our preference, however, to work in a collaborative fashion with Air National Guard and the (Fish & Wildlife) Service to rectify the violations described herein and to consider alternatives other than wind power to meet ANG’s renewable energy needs,” the letter says. “It is important to emphasize that the bird conservancy and observatory position is that wind power can be an important tool in fighting climate change and can broadly result in benefits to birds and their habitats. As a result, we support the military’s commitment (and ANG’s in particular) to gradually increasing its share of energy usage from renewable sources. However, the available empirical data also demonstrate that wind energy projects, when poorly sited, can negatively impact birds – including eagles, migratory songbirds, and rare and endangered species – in significant ways through collisions with turbines and associated power lines, and through loss and degradation of essential habitat.”

Mark Shieldcastle, research director at the bird observatory, has been heading efforts to study flight patterns of migratory birds crossing Lake Erie.

With the use of radar units, Shieldcastle and researchers from government and academia have been compiling data on migrating flocks in the spring and fall, hoping to determine how close they’d come to wind turbines.

Radar units can give researchers a look at the patterns of movement and volume of the birds, their elevation, and how they’re interacting with the lake and shoreline, Shieldcastle said last spring.

One question in particular needs to be addressed, he said: Are they flying above the risk zone – the area around the blades of the turbines?

One radar unit was placed close to the shoreline while the others were three and 15 miles inland.

Preliminary data from the unit farthest inland are yielding a surprise.

“That unit had a huge amount of activity below 500 feet,” Shieldcastle said. “How that compares to right along the coastline we don’t know yet. But they weren’t expecting that much bird activity that low 15 miles inland. That can be a very important piece of information, depending on how that analysis comes out. One possible explanation is the birds are dropping in just like a jet comes in – on a long approach. That’s still up in the air until the data is analyzed. But it does show the birds follow a lower altitude farther inland than was thought.”

If funding is available, researchers would like to have three years of data, he said.

According to an environmental assessment prepared in 2012 for the Air National Guard, the proposed turbine will be able to generate 500-600 thousand kilowatts of power and have a three blade rotor with a diameter of 135 feet. The maximum height of the rotor tip would be 198 feet above ground level. At its lowest level the rotor tip would be 85 feet above ground.

A specific turbine system hadn’t been selected when the assessment was conducted so the dimensions could vary as much as 10 percent, the assessment says.

The turbine will offset a portion of the electric consumption at Camp Perry to meet directives set by executive orders and the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

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