RED WING — Roughly 24 hours after winning a legal challenge that could kick-start construction of the AWA Goodhue wind project, the project was mentioned in a lawsuit filed by the American Bird Conservancy against the federal government.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday by the American Bird Conservancy, claims that federal agencies “flagrantly violated” the Freedom of Information Act by failing to meet deadlines for FOIA requests seeking correspondence with wind developers and other information related to the potential effect of wind projects on birds and bats.
The organization filed six such requests — including one for Minnesota with an eye specifically on the AWA Goodhue project — on Oct. 14, 2011, and has not gotten a response. Kelly Fuller of American Bird Conservancy told the Post-Bulletin on Tuesday that her Washington, D.C-based group has tried repeatedly to follow up on those inquiries, including a written request through the Conservation Law Center.
According to a news release from the American Bird Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs were required to respond within 20 business days.
“It’s ridiculous that Americans have to sue in order to find out what their government is saying to wind companies about our wildlife — a public trust,” Fuller said. “ABC is concerned that many of these projects have the potential to take a devastating toll on songbirds, majestic eagles and threatened and endangered species.”
Opponents of the AWA Goodhue project voiced similar concerns in 2010. AWA Goodhue is seeking the nation’s first incidental-take permit to kill bald eagles and is working on a second version of a state-mandated Avian and Bat Protection Plan. The first version was rejected in February by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission for insufficient data.
Fuller says the federal government has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit once it receives the paperwork.
Rochester’s Mary Hartman submitted an FOIA request on Jan. 9. It also has gone unanswered. She said she’s scheduled for a teleconference meeting today with Tony Sullins, field office supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Service, to resolve the matter. Sullins declined comment.
Hartman requested any agency communication that included the following subjects: Mesa Power, National Wind, Fredrickson & Byron, AWA Goodhue, American Wind Energy Association, Wind on the Wires and Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, who is backing the $180 million project near Zumbrota.
“T. Boone Pickens can go get face-to-face meetings with (U.S. Sens.) Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, but they won’t even respond to our emails,” said Hartman. She said it’s unlikely she would file a lawsuit similar to the American Bird Conservancy’s. “I think my concern is an unfair playing field. I would just like to know what he’s asking of them.”
Last month, 61 national organizations asked the U.S. House and Senate to oversee the Fish and Wildlife Service’s new voluntary guidelines for wildlife impacts by wind developments. Ninety-one organizations petitioned the government to make the voluntary setbacks mandatory.
Fish and Wildlife Services Director Daniel Ashe rejected the petition and asserted that his agency was being “meticulously transparent.”