Wind turbine in bird region skirts scrutiny; Absence of zoning laws ties hands of Erie Twp. officials
PORT CLINTON – A wind turbine project in Ottawa County’s Erie Township breezed past most regulatory steps as it whipped up opposition from bird enthusiasts.
Work is under way at the Lake Erie Business Park to install a 900-kilowatt, roughly 325-foot high turbine near the center of the park, west of Port Clinton between the lakeshore and State Rt. 2.
The turbine has not undergone the level of scrutiny required for a smaller proposed turbine that stirred up controversy on adjacent property at Camp Perry.
That project, a proposed 198-foot high, 500 to 600-kilowatt, federally funded turbine, triggered reviews by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Camp Perry site is under assessment and generated concerns about its proximity to bald eagle nests and bird migration routes.
Similar concerns exist with the nearby business park turbine site, which didn’t require such reviews.
“If it’s entirely privately fund[ed] if it’s on private property and less than 5 megawatts then there’s probably no state or federal regulations on it,” said Megan Seymour, a fish and wildlife service biologist.
James McKinney, a park owner, declined to comment.
Bird advocates, meanwhile, are calling for review of where turbines can be placed, especially in sensitive shoreline stretches important to migration.
The Ohio Power Siting Board certifies wind projects with a capacity of 5 megawatts or greater. There is no county or township regulations for turbines.
“Erie Township is not zoned. There’s a lot of things that just go past unnoticed,” township trustee Frederick Bice said. “We don’t have any control over it at all.”
Voters years ago defeated proposals to usher in zoning to Erie and Carroll townships.
Officials said they do not know of any plans to revisit zoning in those townships along Lake Erie.
Ottawa County Commissioner James Sass heard from people opposed to the turbine placements but said the county does not have control. He was unaware of anything commissioners could do without state legislative changes.
Zoning in Lucas County’s Jerusalem Township, which also borders Lake Erie, regulates residential turbines.
Rules require room to accommodate a turbine should it topple and address other considerations, but turbines are not prohibited from being built near the shore or in bird habitats.
Jerusalem Township trustee Joe Kiss has a 49-foot turbine at his home within a mile or so of the lake. Mr. Kiss said he’s “very aware” of bird groups’ concerns.
“I just don’t think there’s enough hard information out there that says that it’s harming the environment,” he said.
Bird advocates said the lakeshore is a key migration area, and turbines should be placed at least 3 miles from shore because of the dangers the tall structures pose to birds that pass through and nest there.
“It is in the hottest red zone for an area that’s sensitive for migratory birds,” said Kim Kaufman, executive director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Oak Harbor, of the business park site.
She opposes the park and Camp Perry sites and called for a turbine moratorium while studies determine how birds fly into the area.
Allowing the turbines in such an area is “the start of something really scary for bird migration in this area,” she said, adding that destroying or deterring birds also could affect the region’s bird-related tourism.
A final environmental assessment is under way for the Camp Perry site. Depending on those findings, turbine work could begin or additional environmental study could be required, said Ohio National Guard spokesman James Sims.
Jennifer Norris, an ODNR wind-energy biologist, wrote in a September report that the proposed Camp Perry site “falls in an area of greatest concern” because of its proximity to bald eagle nests and the migratory birds that stop along Lake Erie’s shore. She has similar concerns about the business park spot, as does biologist, Ms. Seymour.
The Ottawa County Department of Building Inspection approved the business park turbine’s foundation, which cost an estimated $120,000, according to inspection documents. A permit application also was filed for electrical connections, said building official Tracy Buhrow, who did not know when the project would be finished.
The county received information about just one turbine, though the park’s Web site shows a map depicting six wind turbines drawn in a row.
The business park has welcomed alternative energy before. Crown Battery Manufacturing Co. has a facility in the park where it conducts research and development.
In 2009, the company installed a rooftop wind energy machine called WindCube and also has solar capability. Mark Kelley, vice president of sales, said there’s been no incidents of birds flying into the machine. It is not running as the firm awaits repair parts.
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