Oregon City Council on Nov. 15 unanimously approved a special use exception for the Oregon City Schools District so it can install wind turbines, despite pleas from bird watchers to delay action so they could study the possible effects of turbines on bird mortality.
Jim Gilmore, commissioner of building and zoning, said one turbine will be 286 feet in height, and one will be 279 feet in height
They will be able to withstand winds in excess of 100 miles per hour.
The school district had requested the special use permit for the parcel, at 5665 Seaman Road, to install the turbines in an R-1 Low Density Residential District.
The Oregon Planning Commission on Oct. 19 voted 3-0 to recommend approval of the special use exception. Before council voted, a public hearing was held that included comments from both supporters and opponents of the zoning change.
Tom Susor, speaking in favor of the special use exception, said the turbines would reduce the school district’s energy bill by 10 percent over the next 10 years. “It’s something not to be sneezed at,” he said.
“Windows of opportunity are small, not large,” he said. “There’s money set aside for these types of projects. When you snooze, you lose.”
Kenn Kaufman, of Oak Harbor, was opposed to the turbines, saying they posed a hazard to birds.
Kaufman is editor of the Kaufman Field Guide Series, a series of books on birds and national history sold all over North America.
“I moved to this area from Arizona because the bird migration here is so spectacular. So I know something about how good it is,” said Kaufman. “I don’t have to go anywhere else because all the birders I know from all over the continent come here in May to see the bird migration. It really is a big deal.”
Kaufman said radar studies are needed to get a sense of bird movements before the turbines are installed.
“It’s not just a matter of direct mortality caused by the turbines. It’s the potential for the avoidance, which could be substantially more of a problem than the fact there’s a few towers standing out there. If the turbines, in fact, cause birds to avoid the area, then they’re missing this major stopover habitat that’s very important in their survival in their annual migrations,” said Kaufman. “So we need to find out what the birds are doing in the air column. We need the radar studies to know at one point they start descending toward the stopover habitat and what angle of ascent they’re following when they leave the stopover habitat. We figure three years is a minimum amount of time to do that radar study. I understand there’s these incentives that are running out in December. But rushing into this, just because of the money, doesn’t seem to me to be a sound way of approaching the situation. So I would really urge you to reconsider. We’re very serious about the importance of a three year moratorium. We’re this close to getting the radars in place to be able to do that study. So please consider that.”
Mark Shieldcastle, president and research director for the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, was also opposed to the turbines. Shieldcastle was also a wildlife biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife for over 30 years, where he specialized in avian research. He recently retired from his position as project leader of Wetland Wildlife Research. He also helped develop recovery plans for the bald eagle.
“There is a wide variety in bird mortalities associated with wind turbines,” he said.
That’s why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service recommends that a study be conducted before they are installed, he added.
Shieldcastle, also of Oak Harbor, said previous studies have been inadequate in detecting dead birds near turbines.
“We’re talking about something that is two to three inches long. What’s your chance of finding that bird? You need to determine how good you are observing that. Most studies have done a very poor job of that,” he said.
Scavengers also make it difficult to detect birds killed by turbines, he said.
“You send your crew out at 9 a.m. to look for birds. Every cat, rat, raccoon, skunk, and possum in the country has been out there, with much better equipment that any human has to find those birds well before you ever get there,” he said.
He is working with other groups to put together a comprehensive study on the issue.
“These mid-sized turbines, there’s not been a single study done anywhere,” he said. The turbines, he added, are as tall as a 25-30 story building. “There’s only a few of those in Toledo that would even be the size of these,” he said.
Bowling Green State University is conducting a study of the large, commercial grade turbines in the city of Bowling Green, which has used them for the last several years.
“They’re just now starting it. And they’re finding out that there’s some pretty big bat mortality there. There’s not been much found in birds. They had a problem with their study. They didn’t do scavenger rates or detectability. They’re going to solve that problem,” he said.
Terry Breymaier, president of Friends of Pearson Park, said there are over 100 snowy egrets in Pearson Park North, a 300-acre addition north of Starr Avenue that is being restored to its natural state as a swamp woods and open wetland capable of attracting natural habitat. There have been 100,000 trees, shrubs and bushes planted in Pearson North.
“The count of wildlife going through there migrating is phenomenal. Did you see all the benches sitting there so you could see those birds? Now you’re going to encircle it. You might not kill them, but you’re going to change their pattern,” Breymaier said. “I really believe that. Invested a lot of time and energy, and over $3 million to create that. Let’s not ruin it.”
He said the highest concentration of bald eagles in the lower 48 states is between Maumee Bay and Sandusky Bay. “You kill an eagle here, and you’re going to make a lot of people angry. And it’s just going to be an accident. But if it happens, the whole world is going to know about it. I have eagle sightings in Pearson Park regularly. I see eagle sightings going back and forth down Navarre Avenue. I know they’re in here,” he said.
One resident, who lives on Seaman Road, agreed with Breymaier.
“We’re attracting birds here, and now we’re going to put up windmills and possibly kill birds heading to the lake? I’m for the schools saving money, but right now, the driving force is for them to get tax incentives. These windmills have been proven economically non-feasible. The only way they’re feasible is to have tax incentives,” he said.
Councilman Sandy Bihn said she would like the ordinance to include an amendment that requires the school district to shut down the turbines during the migratory bird season from the beginning of May to mid-May.
“It wouldn’t be much of a problem to turn them off during migratory bird season,” she said.
Council would not support it.
“I’m sympathetic with her goal,” said Councilman Mike Sheehy. “But at the same time, I would wish not to add any specific dates to the legislation. If it can be demonstrated that there are kills, that it’s really going to be a detriment to the migrating birds, I’m sure the schools would be willing to turn their turbines off during those periods of time. We can trust the schools to do the right thing at that time without amending or gutting the ordinance.”