Magee Marsh, Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, and Crane Creek Beach Ridge have been steadily building a reputation.
Between mid-April and the end of May, an estimated 50,000 bird watchers arrive from around the world, pumping an estimated $17-24 million into the local economy.
The Black Swamp Bird Observatory is seeking a three-year moratorium on additional wind turbines within three miles of the Lake Erie Shores in Lucas, Ottawa, Sandusky, and Erie counties until research, including radar studies, on how the turbines affect the lives of nocturnal migrants can be completed.
The BSBO has established an online petition, co-sponsored by the Ohio Ornithological Society and Greater Mohican Audubon Society, with a link at www.bsbobird.org. The BSBO is also seeking letters of support to be written to elected officials and is asking for financial contributions to support the effort.
Monday, at the Ottawa County Visitors Bureau in Port Clinton, the observatory convened a discussion inviting speakers from across the country. The discussion was monitored by BSBO Executive Director Kim Kaufman.
Speakers included Ted Eubanks, founder and president of Fermata Inc.; Bill Evans, president of OldBird.org and developer of TowerKill.com; Keith Lott, wind energy biologist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife; and Dan Boone, a natural resources policy analyst.
Speakers on behalf of the BSBO say the Lake Erie Marsh Region is recognized as globally important for migratory birds and is home to a large number of breeding Bald Eagles. Huge numbers of migratory songbirds, shorebirds, and waterfowl stop here to feed and rest every spring and fall during their long-distance migrations.
The birds are generally arriving at predawn or dusk, when visibility is poor and obstacles present the greatest threat.
Birders believe the lakeshore moratorium should include turbines being proposed for schools, small businesses, and private residences. The speakers say these can exceed 300 feet and there are currently no regulations whatsoever to control where they are installed in relation to bird and wildlife sensitive areas.
Kaufman said wind turbines are “popping up” along the lakeshore without any process for environmental impact on bird populations.
Currently, only local level zoning can dictate policy and birders believe many local officials are unaware of the massive bird migration that takes place here or the significant economic impact generated by tens of thousands of visiting bird watchers each year.
“The initial idea was we are going to try and keep these things away from the lake and keep them more inland where the bird kill would be more homogenous,” Evans said. “We need to find a way if a wind developer came within five miles of the lake they would have to do more of these wind studies. There was to be more of a review process, but the problem is there is more wind available near the lake.
“We need to take a cautionary approach,” Evans continued. “We’re learning as we go with this technology. I think the important thing is that we go slowly until we know more about this technology. There is very little foresight into maintaining bird populations 20 years out. It’s very difficult to forecast that many years in advance.”
Also speaking was entrepreneur John Fellhauer from SUREnergy, the general contractor for two wind turbines to be built at Clay High School, which is two miles from the lake. One of the turbines will be located near the football stadium and one near the practice soccer field. Both will be over 250 feet in height.
The $7.4 million project also includes the addition of two 100 kilowatt units at Eisenhower Middle School, which is 1¼ miles from Maumee Bay State Park, and two 100 kilowatt units at Coy Elementary School.
Fellhauer said a three-year moratorium would bankrupt several Northwest Ohio companies currently involved in wind turbine projects.
The bird observatory had seven desired outcomes from the dialogue, one of which is the moratorium. The others are —
• Expanding the current voluntary wildlife review process for industrial turbines to include midsized turbines 100 feet or more in height or 10 kilowatt or greater.
• Explore the potential for a consortium of local schools to install turbines in areas outside the zone of highest concern, sharing the energy benefits. Eisenhower and Clay are inside what bird organizations refer to as “the red zone.”
• Explore the potential for other sources of renewable energy within the zone of highest concern.
• Explore the potential of bringing economic growth to the area by encouraging wind turbine manufacturing plants to locate here. The speakers say they support renewable, clean energy such as wind, just not so close to the lakeshore where it affects habitat.
• A permanent ban on any wind turbines 300 feet or higher within the zones of highest concern as identified by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
• Development of a local level Western Basin Wind Working Group.