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Windmill opponents to file suit against Gamesa project

Opponents of the controversial Shaffer Mountain Wind Farm have issued a notice of intent to file suit against the developer over claims the project will threaten an endangered species living on the site.

John Buchan Jr., one of the founders of Sensible Wind Solutions, said the group mailed the notice today to nearly 500 state and federal lawmakers and officials. It signals their formal intent to file suit with federal and state agencies charged with protecting the Indiana bat, which is on the endangered species list.

Sensible Wind Solutions, a not-for-profit group seeking the relocation of Gamesa Energy USA’s 30-plus turbines slated for the Allegheny Front, believes the bat has a reproducing colony somewhere on the proposed site, the document stated.
The 90-page document was prepared by Meyer, Glitzenstein & Crystal, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that specializes in suits regarding the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

The wind farm, which is projected to extend through parts of Shade and Ogle townships in Somerset County and Napier Township in Bedford County, has been the subject of a number of environmental studies, many of them required in order to receive clearance from the Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Index.

The PNDI requires developers to determine whether endangered animals, plants and even some insect populations could be affected by the project. The studies associated with PNDI approval are often paid for by the developer.

It was a Gamesa-sponsored study performed last year by Bat Conservation and Management, of Carlisle, and Sanders Environmental Inc., of Centre Hall, that found juvenile male Indiana bats on the proposed project site.

Armed with the results of that study and testimony from Pennsylvania State University professor and bat researcher Michael Gannon, the group hopes to get the project stopped.

According to Buchan, Gannon will testify that the fact that the captured Indiana bats were juveniles indicates that there is a maternity colony very close to where they were captured, he said. It would indicate that there is a breeding, thriving population of Indiana bats on Shaffer Mountain.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expressed its own concerns in a Dec. 19, 2007, letter to the developer. “Nevertheless, the presence of Indiana bats in the project area raises significant concerns,” it stated.

“Based on bat mortality at other wind facilities in the eastern United States, the risk of Indiana bat mortality at the Shaffer Mountain site cannot be discounted.”

Buchan said the developer should be made to adhere to National Environmental Policy Act standards, which are more rigorous and study-intensive, rather than the state standard. Under the act, the company would also need to obtain an Incidental Take Permit for anticipated bat mortality.

Issuing the letter of intent will give the group 30 days with state agencies and 60 days with federal agencies to file suit, he said. The lawsuit will be filed in federal court in Washington, D.C.

Company officials said they could not issue comment on the matter until the letter had been seen and reviewed.

However, the company has long maintained that numerous studies show the project will have minimal impact on wildlife, habitat and the environment when completed.

By Dan DiPaolo

Daily American

15 April 2008