Although Gamesa Inc. has yet to start work or obtain a state permit for its proposed Shaffer Mountain wind project in Somerset County, three local groups say they’ll sue if the turbine maker proceeds.
Sensible Wind Solutions, Mountain Laurel Chapter of Trout Unlimited and The Allegheny Plateau Audubon Society on Tuesday told Gamesa representatives that federal litigation is coming if they don’t stop the project.
The site is a confirmed habitat of the endangered Indiana bat and a migratory route of eastern golden eagles and other federally protected species.
Gamesa officials declined comment.
During a DEP hearing in August, a Gamesa consultant announced the finding of two juvenile Indiana bats in surveys at Shaffer Mountain. Gamesa has said the company is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service on the issue.
The controversial project would place 30 wind turbines atop Shaffer Mountain, a ridge that is part of the Allegheny Front. The site, one of the main raptor migration corridors in eastern North America, is the site of National Aviary research to track the flight of golden eagles.
The root problem is that the state lacks wind turbine guidelines or laws involving wind turbines’ effect on wildlife, said Jack Buchan, co-founder of Sensible Wind Solutions. Studies have shown that turbines can and have killed bats.
“We need some siting regulations, and we need them badly,” Buchan said.
Opponents have pointed out that a reclaimed strip mine 11/2 miles west of the proposed project could accommodate all 30 turbines and would be much more environmentally friendly. Gamesa has said it is not economically feasible.
As is, the project would “almost certainly lead to Indiana bat deaths from turbine collisions on Shaffer Mountain,” said Michael Gannon, a biology professor at Penn State.
Private citizens such as Buchan have fronted “tens of thousands” of dollars to fight the project as proposed.
Eric Glitzenstein, a Washington, D.C., attorney who is preparing the lawsuit, referred to the Endangered Species Act.
“The courts view the unauthorized loss of even a single member of such a species to be an irreparable harm that should be prevented,” he wrote in an e-mail. The letter of intent is required by the Endangered Species Act, he said.
The groups have yet to decide where the suit would be filed, Glitzenstein added.
“Our hope is that Gamesa – which touts itself as an environmentally responsible company – will agree either to do the right thing and abandon this ill-considered project site or, at least, do what is required by federal law and not proceed without applying for an ‘incidental take permit’ from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
The Indiana bat has been a protected species since 1967.
By Kecia Bal
15 April 2008
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