PORT CLINTON – Twice a year, migratory birds flock to the marshes and woods along Lake Erie.
In spring, songbirds stop in wooded lots, eating insects and resting before the long flight across the lake to northern breeding grounds. This shoreline stretch that includes Lucas, Ottawa, Sandusky, and Erie counties attracts birders as well who are eager to spot bald eagles, waterfowl, and catch a rare glimpse of a piping plover or the small and colorful Kirtland’s warbler.
The bountiful birds found here are why a proposed 198-foot wind turbine with whirling blades, to be located about 1 mile from Lake Erie at Ottawa County’s Camp Perry, troubles avian advocates. The project is under analysis and attack.
The coastal swath, dotted with wildlife areas and refuges, is considered a “globally important” habitat by birders, said Kim Kaufman, executive director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Oak Harbor.
“We’ve just got to preserve these critical pieces,” Ms. Kaufman said.
She said a “preponderance of evidence” shows the proposed Camp Perry site is the wrong place to put a wind turbine. Ms. Kaufman has been working to gather opposition from other groups and plans to send a letter today protesting the project to the 200th Red Horse squadron of the Ohio Air National Guard.
“It’s just astounding that they are still considering it,” Ms. Kaufman said.
National Guard officials said project study and environmental analysis continue, as well as work to respond to concerns from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
It’s premature to discuss concerns before that analysis is finished, Ohio National Guard spokesman James Sims said.
“We understand that they are concerned about this. There is a process; we are working through the process,” Mr. Sims said.
Those concerns revolve around plans to install at Camp Perry a 500-kilowatt turbine, with an aim to generate wind power, reduce electric costs, and aid research.
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) helped secure about $1.5 million in federal funds for the project. The National Guard entered into a contract with a firm that purchased a reconditioned wind turbine that could be used at the site but is not presently located there, Lt. Col. Daniel Tack said.
Because Camp Perry is an historic site, the project requires a historical and environmental review, he said.
There is no construction timeline, officials said.
Solar power is available at the camp. Adding wind generation is just one of many Camp Perry investments assisted by Miss Kaptur, said her chief of staff, Steve Katich. She views alternative energy as a way to create jobs and cut costs, said Mr. Katich, who added that Miss Kaptur is a bird enthusiast.
The National Guard and state and federal agencies should work together to address bird-related concerns, Mr. Katich said.
“I would expect that the guard is heeding the concerns of the fish and wildlife service and other entities, and we would encourage them to do that,” Mr. Katich said. “I think there is an air of cooperation and discussion that’s going back and forth on this project. That is good. That is important to allay the concerns of all the folks that are involved.”
Sixty bald eagle nests are located within 10 miles of the proposed project site, and one nest is about a half-mile away.
Those fish and wildlife service numbers are among the reasons Mark Shieldcastle, Black Swamp research director, opposes the Camp Perry site.
“It’s one of the densest nesting grounds for eagles in the lower 48,” Mr. Shieldcastle said.
Ohio’s bald eagle population previously was diminished, he said, in part by contaminants that climbed up the food chain. A recovery effort helped bring back the symbolic bird to this region, Mr. Shieldcastle said. Now, he’s worried about eagles colliding with a wind turbine.
It’s happened before, said Megan Seymour, a fish and wildlife service biologist who wrote a detailed review documenting concerns with the proposed site.
“We know that bald eagles can be killed by wind turbines,” she said.
The fish and wildlife service recommended a number of actions to help mitigate the risk of bird-turbine collisions. Shutting off the turbine during the busiest migratory seasons, especially during the high-danger time period of dusk to dawn, is one suggestion. Birds are active during daylight and can see and avoid a turbine more easily then, Ms. Seymour said.
“We do have a number of concerns about the project. We can work with Camp Perry,” she said. “They’ve been pretty responsive to us so far.”
But precautionary steps won’t eliminate all problems, contends Ms. Kaufman, who points out the economic benefit birders bring to the area throughout the year and during a large bird festival. It would be better, Ms. Kaufman said, to install the turbine farther from the lakeshore area that serves as a sky highway for migrating birds.
Even if birds don’t crash into the turbine or its spinning blades, birds may begin to fly another route to avoid the tall structure, she said. That “avoidance factor” is just one of the problems with the proposed site, she said.
Mr. Sims refused to address publicly birders’ specific concerns until project analysis is complete.
“They would like to have some answers, and all of that is going to come out,” Mr. Sims said.
Ms. Kaufman, meanwhile, remains convinced the solution lies in relocating the turbine.
“What we are going to have to understand is that there are places along the lakeshore that we have to conserve,” Ms. Kaufman said. “We can absolutely have wind turbines. We just have to work together to [find] good, responsible locations.”
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