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UPDATE — Federal officials say wind farm could harm endangered species  

FRANKLIN – Federal officials expressed concern over the site of a proposed wind farm on the border of Virginia and West Virginia, arguing it could pose a threat to several endangered species.

In a letter to environmental consultant Western EcoSystems Technology Inc., of Cheyenne, Wyo., the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service said the site isn’t the best location for a wind-power project.

The proposed site encompasses portions of Rockingham County in Virginia, and Pendleton and Hardy counties in West Virginia, according to WEST, which is studying the site on behalf of an unnamed client. The consultant asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to withhold the name of the client, as well as the exact location and nature of the project.

Fish and Wildlife Field Supervisor Thomas Chapman wrote in a letter to WEST’s Wendy Tidhar that alternative locations should be considered because the proposed site is “high risk” and wind power operations there pose a reasonable likelihood of harming species protected by the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Golden Eagle Protection Act.

The area under consideration is home to animals on federal endangered species lists, including the bald and golden eagle and two species of bats.

Concern over protected bird and bat species has prompted other disputes over wind farm projects in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and in eastern West Virginia in recent years.

Fish and Wildlife officials said the agency supports alternative energy production, including wind power, but only when they are “sited and operated to be bird-and-bat friendly.”

A message left for WEST officials was not immediately returned Tuesday.

WEST’s client could still pursue construction of the project at the proposed site, despite the Fish and Wildlife officials’ concerns. But officials would insist the company conduct three years of pre-construction surveys, including monitoring studies for bat and bald eagle foraging areas, said Laura Hill of Fish and Wildlife.

If federally listed species are discovered there or impacted by the wind farm, the company should apply for a special permit and a Habitat Conservation Plan, Hill said.

Associated Press

The Times West Virginian

15 January 2008

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