After being twice urged to do so by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Liberty Gap LLC has volunteered to seek a permit for the incidental “take” of endangered species.
In doing so, the company has asked the West Virginia Public Service Commission not to consider its proposed wind energy project’s impacts on other wildlife.
But PSC staff has urged the commission to deny that request.
Liberty Gap stated the PSC should abstain from considering potential wildlife impacts, including bats, due to the company’s commitment to apply for the permit and begin a voluntary habitat conservation plan process. The company suggested the PSC could add a condition to its permit for the 50-megawatt wind turbine utility, saying Liberty Gap would provide a final incidental take permit and habitat conservation plan issued by USFWS before it begins construction.
Liberty Gap noted site clearing and grading, geotechnical and environmental investigations, or installing fencing and construction trailers would not be considered “commencement of construction.”
The company said if the PSC accepts its proposition, it need not consider any potential impacts the project might have on wildlife because the federal permit and habitat processes require Liberty Gap to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, which already addresses all impacts to wildlife, including bats.
But PSC staff said while those processes may include a discussion of wildlife, they believe the incidental take permit will only address two endangered species of bats – the Virginia big-eared bat and the Indiana bat.
“Given that it is unknown as to what will happen with the incidental take permitting process at this time, staff does not believe it is appropriate to allow Liberty Gap to withdraw such a broad range of issues,” PSC officials said. They also did not agree to Liberty Gap’s definition of what’s considered “commencement of construction,” saying these kinds of activities could potentially harm wildlife also.
“Staff needs firm evidence that Liberty Gap is committed to following through with the HCP/ITP process,” PSC said. “In other words, Liberty Gap must move into evidence something sufficient to show this commitment as official evidence of the commitment at the evidentiary hearing before staff would agree to supporting Liberty Gap’s motion “¦ in this case.”
Liberty Gap filed a response to the PSC staff, saying due to the processes involved, including complying with NEPA, the developer would have to prepare an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement for the wind utility. Those documents would be extensive under NEPA, and Liberty Gap believes the process “places these issues in the jurisdiction of the governmental agencies with special expertise to resolve them, and relieves the commission of the need to consider wildlife impacts of the project.”
The PSC has not yet issued its final decision on the company’s request.
By Anne Adams “¢ Staff Writer
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