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Wind farm proposed near bald eagle habitats to be delayed indefinitely

Chicago-based wind farm developer Invenergy will indefinitely delay building an industrial-scale wind farm proposed near a wildlife refuge in eastern North Carolina because it poses a mortal threat to bald eagles that hunt in the area and nest nearby.

Invenergy said this week additional research of potential bird risks will postpone construction of the Pantego Wind Energy Project by at least one year. That means the 49-turbine wind farm proposed on 11,000 acres in Beaufort County would begin operating in late 2014, at the earliest.

But critics hope the move signals the beginning of the end of the controversial project proposed near the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

“I read into this that even they recognize there’s a significant conflict with birds at this particular site,” said Derb Carter, director of the North Carolina office of the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Our view is the delay should include a thorough reconsideration of this site.”

Last month the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released preliminary findings showing the project could result in 3.4 to 20.7 bald eagle kills a year, based on data Invenergy submitted to the agency.

The estimated eagle kills would be exceptionally high for one site. North American wind farms had caused just four eagle deaths and one injury as of last year, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Killing bald eagles violates U.S. law unless a federal waiver is granted permitting a set number of kills. Invenergy is considering applying for such a permit for its Pantego project as one of its options, said Dave Groberg, the company’s vice president of business development.

“There’s greater bald eagle activity than we originally anticipated,” Groberg said. “We’ll look carefully at what we can do to minimize the impacts and mitigate the impacts.”

Bald eagles had disappeared entirely in North Carolina but were reintroduced three decades ago and today are believed to number at about 200 nesting pairs, according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

Field researchers discovered between eight and 10 bald eagle nests within five miles of the proposed 80-megawatt Pantego wind farm.

Invenergy is also looking to develop at least one other wind far in this state. The company is reviewing Currituck and Camden counties, bordering with Virginia, for a 300-megawatt wind farm. Groberg said it would be independent of Pantego and not an alternate location.