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Debate grows over wind turbines in the path of eagles

GOODHUE COUNTY, Minn. – Next to the crops, an environmental debate is growing in Goodhue County farm country – green energy on one side and saving wildlife on the other.

“Like a lot of farmers in the area, it’s pretty deep in tradition,” says local dairy farmer Bruce McNamara.

The McNamara farm has been in the area for 60 years. Bruce and his wife Marie are now worried about what could happen to their land and the birds they share it with, when a wind turbine project moves forward.

“Energy facilities should be sited in an orderly manner and they’re clustered right over eagles’ nests,” says Marie, who is also a member of a local citizens group against a project to build wind turbines in the area.

The developer, AWA Goodhue Wind, plans to build 50 to 60 wind turbines over several thousand acres. Some residents and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are concerned the turbines will interfere with eagles nesting and feeding. There are at least four confirmed nests in the area according to fish and wildlife officials.

“The issue we’re more concerned about is the birds flying into them and being killed,” says Mags Rheude of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The developer says it’s done everything possible to protect the eagles and doesn’t believe their travel patterns bring the birds in the path of the turbines. The company has conducted several environmental studies, many still ongoing.

“We’re probably 150 hours field time watching and monitoring eagle movements,” says Ron Peterson, Director of Environmental Services for Westwood, the environmental consultant working with Goodhue.

Company officials say the issue may be about more than just eagles. Many landowners have bought into the project and turbines will be located on their farms.

“People who aren’t participating or benefitting financially… don’t want to look at them or listen to them if they’re close enough to them,” says Peterson.

The project has the go-ahead from the Public Utilities Commission, but in order to receive its permit Goodhue Wind has to conduct more studies and come up with a bird and bat management plan.

Goodhue hopes to start construction on the turbines by the end of the year.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is recommending a two mile buffer zone between turbines and the eagles.