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Wind turbine a danger to wildlife? Groups take on Ohio National Guard in an effort to protect migrating birds

ERIE TOWNSHIP – The American Bird Conservancy and Black Swamp Bird Observatory announced Wednesday they intend to bring legal action against the Ohio National Guard in an effort to protect migrating birds.

The construction of a new wind turbine at Camp Perry violates numerous federal laws, the groups say, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

“There are 60 active bald eagle nests within a 10-mile radius,” said Kim Kauffman, director of the BSBO. “We have a lot of new information that states wind turbines have a significant impact on bald eagles.”

In a letter sent by the Washington-based public interest law firm of Meyer, Glitzenstein & Crystal, the groups claim environmental review processes were unlawfully circumvented and the development is taking place in violation of the federal acts meant to protect birds.

“The proposed development of wind power at Camp Perry ignores the many concerns expressed by wildlife professionals in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources,” said Dr. Michael Hutchins, national coordinator of ABC’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign. “If completed, this turbine would sit in the middle of a major bird migration corridor directly adjacent to a national wildlife refuge.”

Hutchins said the FWS has concluded it is likely to kill threatened and endangered bird species such as piping plovers and Kirtland’s warblers, as well as other federally protected birds.

“We are asking the developer to immediately halt construction and take the steps mandated by federal law to prevent the illegal killing of protected species,” he said.

But just several thousand feet from the site Kauffman says has been chosen for the Camp Perry turbine, another, larger turbine already has been constructed.

“No one really knows what the size or scope of the Lake Erie Business Park project is because they won’t talk to anybody,” Kauffman said.

While one turbine appears to have been completed, there are several sections of turbine tower stored nearby the existing turbine.

Kauffman said the Camp Perry site, as far as she knows, will feature a single wind turbine.

ABC and BSBO consider the placement of the Camp Perry facility to present an extremely high risk to migrating songbirds, especially the federally endangered Kirtland’s Warbler.

This species was nearly extinct less than 40 years ago and, according to ABC, while they are rebounding with the help of costly and intensive management efforts, numbers are in the low thousands.

Additional at-risk birds include other migrating songbirds, raptors, bald eagles and waterfowl.

Bill Eubanks, an attorney with MGC, said a lawsuit could be filed in Ohio, Washington or elsewhere.

Nothing has been filed yet, he said.

“What we’re asking for is a response by next week,” said Eubanks. “We’d like to see project schedule and plans.”

According to Eubanks, the OANG has failed to properly follow required steps when it decided, and moved forward with, plans to build the turbine.

“They focused that it’s only one turbine, and that’s not relevant,” he said.

Kauffman said a Freedom of Information Act request she sent to the OANG was acknowledged, though Black Swamp or ABC never received any of the requested documents.

Black Swamp and others have worked to get ahead of this issue since 2010, Kauffman said.

“We’re very disappointed right now,” Kauffman said, citing birding tourism, in addition to the high-traffic migration corridor in Ottawa County.

She said the choice to construct a wind turbine at Camp Perry was a bad decision for the wind industry.

According to BSBO, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials sent a letter to Camp Perry cautioning there is a high probability of bird deaths being caused by turbine strikes from the project and called for a formal Endangered Species Act consultation.

That request was ignored by Camp Perry officials, according to BSBO officials.

Further, Kauffman said, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources cited 23 areas of deficiency in the site’s original Environmental Assessment.

“The developers have misled the public about these federal and state concerns,” said Kaufman. “This project is the vanguard of a major planned build-out of wind power in what is one of the nation’s greatest songbird migration bottlenecks and a key site for birding and bird tourism. It potentially sets a horrific precedent.”

Officials from the Ohio National Guard and Lake Erie Business Park could not be reached for comment.