Environmental groups have teamed with the King and Armstrong ranches to try to stop plans for two wind farms that they claim will kill birds and damage habitat along one of the world’s major migratory flyways.
The Coastal Habitat Alliance includes the American Bird Conservancy, the Coastal Bend Audubon Society, the Houston Audubon Society and the Lower Laguna Madre Foundation, a local group dedicated to protecting the bay and native habitat.
“This is a pristine area that’s a very fragile habitat that’s right in the middle of one of the most active bird migration pathways in America,” said Elyse Yates, an Austin attorney representing the group. “We think this is an inappropriate site for a major industrial wind project like this. We think the harm is irreparable.”
Babcock & Brown Ltd., an Australian investment bank, and PPM, an energy company, each plans wind farms with a total of about 300 wind turbines on the Kenedy Ranch, said Marc Cisneros, chief executive officer of the Kenedy Foundation.
The companies plan to build the wind farms on the Kenedy Ranch, about seven miles west of the Intracoastal Waterway south of Baffin Bay, Cisneros said.
The alliance wants the Texas Public Utility Commission to hold a public hearing into the installation of a transmission line that would carry electricity from the wind farms, said Walt Kittelberger, chairman of the Lower Laguna Madre Foundation in Port Mansfield.
The group also wants the federal government to order an environmental impact study to determine whether the wind farms would threaten migratory birds and damage as much as 60,000 acres of coastal habitat, Kittelberger said.
“It’s unprecedented on a coastal flyway – one of the biggest in the world,” Kittelberger said of the plan. “We know they’ll kill birds. They killed them in many other places. It’s just a matter of how many they’ll kill.”
The wind farms could threaten the Rio Grande Valley’s burgeoning eco-tourism industry that was built around birds along the migratory flyway, Kittelberger said.
“It’s in a place that’s world-famous for its diversity and number of birds from all across the entire Western Hemisphere,” Kitttelberger said.
“Visually, you’re talking about a whole heap of change to the Valley instantaneously,” Kittelberger said of wind turbines that would loom about 400 feet tall. “At 15 miles away it will be very obvious.”
At the Kenedy Foundation, Cisneros called the charges groundless “allegations.”
A two-year study monitored radar that showed the site didn’t lie along the migratory flyway, Cisneros said.
“That’s not where the bird path is,” Cisneros said. “No one’s more concerned about wildlife than we are.”
Wind farms, Cisneros said, were “a source of energy. It’s a source of income” for the ranch.
By Fernando Del Valle
29 August 2007
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