The erection of one, and possibly two, new wind turbines near the shores of Lake Erie in Erie Township have raised the hackles of some community members and visitors, who say the turbines may threaten the well-being of migrating birds, bats and the Ottawa County tourism business.
“The role we’ve been involved in is the wildlife effects in this region,” said Mark Shieldcastle, research director for the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Carroll Township.
He called land within three miles of the Lake Erie shore in Ottawa County some of the richest concentration sites of migratory birds in the nation.
Others, Shieldcastle said, say the area is larger.
“The Nature Conservancy just came out with a study that puts it at about five miles,” he said.
While conservationists in the region have been aware of plans to install a wind turbine at Camp Perry since at least 2012, they only recently learned about plans to install a turbine at the Lake Erie Business Park.
“I have no idea what’s going on there,” Shieldcastle said. “On their website it pictures six wind turbines.”
While the wind turbine proposed at Camp Perry has been reviewed by state and federal wildlife officials, Shieldcastle said he believes the turbine going up at Lake Erie Business Park is likely immune because it is located on private property and is likely not using federal funds.
Shieldcastle said he found out after a contractor who happened to be on the site saw at least some sections of the turbine tower.
He said attempts to find out more from park operators has been unsuccessful.
“My only comment is that it’s our policy not to comment on previous, current and/or future business matters at the Lake Erie Business Park,” said Jim McKinney, a park owner.
Crown Battery installed a large, experimental box turbine on the roof of its Lake Erie Business Park facility in 2009.
Crown owner Hal Hawk did not return a call seeking comment on the results of the box turbine’s performance since then.
County commissioners have received a number of communications from the public recently, including some who say they will boycott events and attractions if the county continues to allow large, commercial turbines to be installed.
And while Larry Fletcher, executive director of the Ottawa County Visitors Bureau, said he doesn’t have a personal opinion on the topic, he did say he asked officials in charge of the Camp Perry project to act with caution in the future.
In an October 2012 letter, Fletcher cited tourism spending of $312 million the county, with taxes collected at more than $41 million.
He specifically cited The Biggest Week in American Birding, an event that draws more than 50,000 birders to the county each spring.
“The birding in this area is a very important component of our tourism industry, especially during spring migration,” Fletcher said. “Every year I’ve been in this area, and that’s been about eight years, it’s been getting bigger and bigger.”
Fletcher said he and other tourism officials simply want Camp Perry officials to carefully consider negative impacts on wildlife.
While commissioners said they plan to speak to Fletcher later this week, during the visitors bureau’s update meeting, they conceded they probably have no authority on the matter.
“I don’t know whether we have any control to regulate them if we wanted to,” said Ottawa County Commissioner Jim Sass.
Dave Ewert, senior conservation scientist with The Nature Conservancy, said he has performed work to map out the places where wind turbines will most and least likely affect migratory birds and bats, and other wildlife, in the Western Basin.
One major mistake, said Ewert, is placing turbines close to areas where habitat used by those animals is rich.
“Any area along the shorelines, in Michigan and on the islands,” Ewert said.
He said the higher the tower, the farther it reaches into the air column, and it is more likely to interfere with flight.
“What we don’t really know yet is when the birds come down to stopover sites, what their angles are,” Ewert said.
The steeper the angles, he explained, the safer the birds are from turbines.
But long, shallow descents would place birds in greater danger from towers and their spinning blades, he said.
Scientists are working to use radar to study birds’ aproaches and departures in the area, Ewert said.
But even if scientists learn more about migratory birds, regulations covering wind turbines are full of loopholes, Shieldcastle said.
“In Ohio, under the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, 5 megawatts or more comes under review,” he said.
That means smaller turbines escape review and approval, according to Shieldcastle, who said the largest commercial turbine is currently about 2.4 megawatts.
And he said, he’s surprised Camp Perry is moving forward with its project.
“It’s really strange that Camp Perry has moved forward with the eagle nest right there,” he said.
The nest is about a half mile from the proposed turbine site, according to Shieldcastle.
“The risk is really high,” he said.
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