The federally endangered Indiana bat won a significant reprieve recently when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that it would reinitiate consultation under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on Gamesa’s proposed Shaffer Mountain Wind Project in Bedford and Somerset Counties in Pennsylvania.
As a result, the Army Corps of Engineers will hold its final decision in abeyance pending the conclusion of that consultation, which will determine whether, and with what conditions, the proposed 30-turbine industrial wind project can ultimately proceed with construction and operation.
Such action is in response to the letter submitted in November 2011 by a coalition of conservation groups that notified the FWS of ESA violations when the FWS ignored impacts to a critical maternity colony of Indiana bats (located within the proposed project area), as well as golden eagles and other migratory birds, in issuing a legally required Biological Opinion on the project.
Dennis McNair, President of the Allegheny Plateau Audubon Society, part of the coalition, noted, “the effectiveness of regulations and laws passed to protect the environment depends on the responsible efforts of the agencies whose duty it is to enforce them. After our considerable expenditure of money, time and effort, we’ve finally gotten them to do what they should have been doing all along – their assigned job.”
The Allegheny Front Hawk Watch, Sensible Wind Solutions, the Mount Laurel Chapter of Trout Unlimited, as well as Jack Buchan and Thomas Dick, form the rest of the coalition. “We felt that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion was flawed, since it did not take into account the cumulative effects of white nose syndrome and wind turbine fatalities on the critically endangered Indiana bat population,” said Jack Buchan, a property owner on Shaffer Mountain.
The coalition is working with the nation’s leading public interest environmental law firm, Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, which submitted the letter on behalf of the coalition.
William Eubanks, an attorney for the firm, applauded the FWS for agreeing to reinitiate consultation under the circumstances because “several critical factors were wholly disregarded by the Service’s Biological Opinion, including the devastating impacts of white nose syndrome, and the more fundamental question of whether, in any case, industrial wind power projects should be placed in the midst of sensitive maternity colonies for highly imperiled species such as the Indiana bat.”
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