GARDEN – The future of a Garden Peninsula wind farm is uncertain, as its developers face government scrutiny about the farm’s potential impact on migratory birds. Heritage Sustainable Energy recently received a written reprimand from the U.S. Department of Interior, but the company insists the issue has been, and will continue to be, addressed.
As a downstate sustainable energy firm out of Traverse City, Heritage is planning to place approximately 15 wind turbines throughout the Garden Peninsula. The farm announced last year it will produce energy to be sold to Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison.
In August, Heritage held an open house for residents to learn more about the project and its timeline. During that event, some residents and visitors voiced concerns about wind turbines’ potential impact on certain migratory birds and other avian species. However, officials from Heritage assured the public there were ample paid studies conducted by Michigan State University and the Michigan Natural Features Inventory prior to the farm’s development.
On Nov. 4, the U.S. Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), sent Heritage a letter, expressing its displeasure about the company’s disregard of their advice, and issuing a warning of possible corrective action from the agency.
“Based on the data currently available, we must once again recommend that you not construct a commercial wind energy development on the Garden Peninsula because of the high potential from avian mortalities and violations of Federal wildlife laws,” wrote Scott Hicks, field supervisor for the USFWS. “Since 2007, our office has expressed significant concerns with this project.”
Some of the concerns listed in the letter include: the proximity of the farm to a Great Lakes shoreline and Big Bay de Noc; the proximity to adjacent wetland habitats; and the high level of avian departures or arrivals on the peninsula.
“These factors are all likely to lead to … high levels of avian mortality by wind turbines at the proposed project site,” wrote Hicks.
According to Rick Wilson, Heritage’s vice president of operations, the company is and has been addressing the USFWS’s concerns.
“We have had comprehensive avian studies ongoing since 2007 and have continuously been in direct contact with the USFWS along with the MIDNR regarding all wildlife and environmental issues of potential concern,” he explained in response to questions regarding the agency’s letter. “We are confident that the wind farm will have no significant impact on wildlife and we will continue to work in a collaborative effort to assure this.”
In his letter to Heritage, Hicks explained that constructing the wind farm would violate certain parts of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as well as the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Heritage, he added, is aware of this violation.
“Your (Heritage) project specific data documents the high levels of avian use at the proposed project site,” Hicks wrote. “For example, monitoring efforts for the proposed project produced a mean of 732.8 ‘large’ birds detected per survey (122.1 ‘large’ birds/hour) and 73.3 ‘small birds detected per survey (366.5 ‘small’ birds/hour) in the fall of 2010.”
These documents, Hicks noted, support the evidence the Garden Peninsula is a migratory corridor for birds. In addition, the USFWS also pointed out the frequent use of the area by bald eagles could be another problem for the company.
At the end of his letter to Heritage, Hicks warns the company of the consequences of its project:
“Any eagle or migratory bird mortalities caused by your proposed facility would be a violation of the MBTA and/or Eagle Act a potential criminal violation,” he wrote. “These events will be properly referred to our law enforcement office for appropriate follow-up.”
Hicks goes on to explain while there are permits available to take a bald eagle, the company would likely not qualify for one, nor have they applied. He also said there is no permit to take migratory birds.
A final recommendation Heritage move the site of their proposed wind project is made at the conclusion of the letter.
“Once again, the service recommends that you re-evaluate your project and select an alternative location with less potential for impacts to federally-protected wildlife,” wrote Hicks. “This has been our recommendation since our first correspondence in 2007 and remains our recommendation today.”