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National Guard halts turbine project at Camp Perry; Bird groups had threatened to sue

A letter of intent to sue the Ohio National Guard and an on-going petition effort were enough to convince federal officials to at least temporarily halt plans for constructing a wind turbine at Camp Perry near Oak Harbor.

The American Bird Conservancy and Black Swamp Bird Observatory last week were praising the decision by the National Guard Bureau office in Maryland to withdraw a key finding to the project effective immediately.

Last month, the organizations submitted a letter of intent to sue the National Guard, claiming the proposed turbine project violated the Endangered Species Act as well as other federal environmental and conservation laws.

In response, the National Guard, in a letter dated Jan. 28 to a public interest law firm representing the bird groups, said it is withdrawing the Finding of No Significant Impact.

“I have received your Notification of Intent letter, dated January 8, 2014. After carefully considering your objections to the August 22, 2013 Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), for the wind turbine technologies project at the Camp Perry Air National Guard Station, I have decided to withdraw the FONSI for the project effective immediately,” the letter from Col. Peter A. Sartori, Director, Installations and Mission Support, states. “Since the FONSI has been withdrawn, the project will not go forward at this time.

“My environmental staff at the National Guard Bureau will review and coordinate the Environmental Assessment and all supporting documentation in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, as well as compliance with other environmental statutes, including the Endangered Species Act.”

Kimberly Kaufman, the bird observatory’s executive director, credited supporters who signed a petition opposing the turbine’s proposed placement for having an effect on the Guard’s decision.

“We are absolutely elated that the Air National Guard has halted this project, at least temporarily and possibly for good,” she said. “We certainly owe thanks to the thousands who voiced their opposition to the project via the petition.”

Kaufman said the petition will remain open for more signatures,

The bird organizations noted that the Camp Perry turbine would sit in the middle of a major bird migration corridor and would be close to a national wildlife refuge.

Michael Hutchins, national coordinator of the ABC’s bird smart wind energy campaign, said conservationists will continue to closely monitor wind energy developers in “this ecologically sensitive region.”

“While we support wind energy as a sustainable energy source, we insist that turbines be sited where their impacts to birds and other wildlife can be minimized. This project was among the worst we have seen in that regard. We applaud the government’s decision to reconsider this project,” he said. While the organizations threatened to sue, they also left the door open to meeting with National Guard officials.

”It is our preference to, however, to work in a collaborative fashion with Air National Guard and the (Fish & Wildlife) Service to rectify the violations described herein and to consider alternatives other than wind power to meet ANG’s renewable energy needs,” the letter from the law firm, Meyer Giltzenstein & Crystal, to the National Guard says. “It is important to emphasize that the bird conservancy and observatory position is that wind power can be an important tool in fighting climate change and can broadly result in benefits to birds and their habitats. As a result, we support the military’s commitment (and ANG’s in particular) to gradually increasing its share of energy usage from renewable sources. However, the available empirical data also demonstrate that wind energy projects, when poorly sited, can negatively impact birds – including eagles, migratory songbirds, and rare and endangered species – in significant ways through collisions with turbines and associated power lines, and through loss and degradation of essential habitat.”