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Outdoor proponents wary of Mill Creek wind farm  

Credit:  Outdoor proponents worry about wind farm | By Margaret Slayton | St. Joseph News-Press | March 14, 2014 | www.newspressnow.com ~~

Despite assurances from the company, the proposed location of what could be the largest wind farm in Missouri is causing concern for some wildlife officials and outdoorsmen in the region.

Scott Zeimetz is a project manager for Element Power, the company planning the wind farm. He said Element is planning to build 84 to 118 wind turbines in Holt County that will produce 200 megawatts of electricity.

Ron Bell, Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge manager said he was first notified about the Element project in January. He said a meeting was scheduled for early February but was canceled due to weather. He said refuge staff met with Element employees for the first time in late February.

Bell said he is concerned about the number of birds and bats that could strike a wind turbine and that the structures could cause long-term changes in migration.

A map from Element shows that the turbines’ locations lie between Squaw Creek and the seven conservation areas of Nodaway Valley, Bob Brown, Riverbreaks, Monkey Mountain, Honey Creek, Wolf Creek Bend and McCormack. The project also is near the Payne Landing river access and Tom Brown access.

Zeimetz said the number and exact locations of turbines for Mill Creek Wind Farm will be set in the next two months with construction beginning in the fall. The number of turbines will fluctuate based on the size and output of the turbines that are built.

Zeimetz said the company has leased more than 30,000-acres of private land in the county since 2010.

He said the company is aware of potential harm to wildlife and have conducted studies of birds and bats in the area since 2009, with the majority of the wildlife surveys completed within the project area and a two-mile buffer.

According to an e-mail from Zeimetz, there is some waterfowl in the project area during migration season. However, Element’s own research indicates that more than 80 percent of the observations were birds that flew at heights above the turbines’ potential rotor zone.

“While the project is not located within an area used by large numbers of bald eagles during the nesting season, there are relatively high numbers of bald eagles that use the area during the winter and migratory seasons and are being addressed in conservation plans developed for the project,” according to a Frequently Asked Questions document provided by Zeimetz.

The document said, even though bald eagles do not appear to be at particularly high risk of colliding with wind turbines, they continue to work closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Conservation to design the project so that eagles will not be significantly impacted.

Element said a few type of other rare birds, such as golden eagles, peregrine falcons and northern harriers, have been sighted.

Dr. Lynn Robbins, a biology professor at Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo., said he studied bats in the project area.

Dr. Robbins said he was looking for the presence of the federally endangered Indiana bat or the Northern Long-Eared bat, which could be placed on the endangered list this fall.

He said the study was extensive and used mist nests and bat call detectors, but he found no evidence that either endangered species use the project site.

“I was surprised they weren’t there because the habitat looks nice, but it’s very much on the very edge of their range,” Robbins said.

He said the survey was conducted between May and August since that would be during the breeding period of the Indiana bat.

“It’s as good of a spot as I’ve seen that would have very minimal impact on the bat population,” Robbins said of the proposed wind farm.

Robbins said he did detect evidence of common bats in the study area.

“Nobody of any kind of reputation is going to say bats aren’t being killed by wind turbines,” Robbins said.

In an e-mail, Element said the company did not expect either of the endangered bat species to be in the project area because their natural habitat, such as caves, mines and woodlands, is not found within the project boundary.

Janet Sternberg, a conservation department policy coordinator, said staff detected Northern Long-Eared bat and Indiana bats calls on several nearby conservation areas using bat call detectors.

And Darrin Welchert, Squaw Creek biologist, said he conducted a bat monitoring study last summer using bat call detectors placed at two locations on the refuge.

He said the results indicated 20 different Northern Long-Eared bat calls and two Indiana bat calls. In addition, he detected 184 Silver-Haired bat calls, which are classified as a “vulnerable” species in Missouri.

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation officials, bat populations roost in caves in southern Missouri in winter and migrate to Northwest Missouri in the spring to rest and raise their young.
Meanwhile, Bell said refuge officials have repeatedly observed birds fly from the refuge to nearby areas.

Currently, refuge staff has counted more than 1.1 million snow geese on the refuge. Hunters from across the country come to Holt County each year to harvest snow geese on the nearby conservation areas and private land.

Sternburg said Element contacted the department in 2011 but did not meet with them until late February.

She said the conservation department has not received a map of the proposed wind turbine locations and that they have additional questions to ask the company.

“I do know that there are turbines proposed near some of our conservation areas and also Squaw Creek and of course that does raise concerns,” Sternburg said. “We have shared all along with them that we have concerns for how the project might affect waterfowl in the area.”

She said the department is particularly concerned about waterfowl, bats and eagles. She said MDC maintains that waterfowl fly between the refuge and conservation areas, in addition to using private land between.

Area hunter John McDaniels said he’s concerned that the turbines will impact more than just birds.

He said he hunted deer close to the Bluegrass Ridge Wind Farm near King City, Mo., which was built in 2007. He said after brush and tree lines were removed, he saw fewer deer in the same areas.

McDaniels said he hunted the same area for several seasons but the deer population did not recover.

For more information, Element can be contacted online at www.elpower.com. Also, questions on environmental issues can be e-mailed to millcreekquestions@elpower.com or phone inquiries can be made at (503) 416-0834.

The proposed location of the largest wind turbine farm in Missouri by Element Power is a source of concern for some wildlife officials and outdoorsmen in the region.

Scott Zeimetz, Element Power project manager, said the company is currently planning to build between 84 and 118 wind turbines in Holt County to produce electricity for the 200 MW project.

A map of the proposed project given to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials indicates the locations of the wind turbines could be located anywhere within 67,270-acres of land in the county. The proposed project is located between Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge and the six conservation areas of Nodaway Valley, Bob Brown, Riverbreak, Monkey Mountain, Honey Creek and McCormack.

Zeimetz said the exact locations and number of wind turbines will be finalized in the next two months with construction beginning fall 2014. The number of turbines will fluctuate based on the size and output of the turbines that are built.

Zeimetz said the company has leased more than 30,000-acres of private land in the county since 2010.

He said the company is aware of potential interference with wildlife and have conducted studies on birds and bats in the area since 2009.

“We have met with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service numerous times and we continue to work in conjunction with them to properly design this project,” Zeimetz said.

Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge manager Ron Bell said he was first notified about the project by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Ecological Office in Columbia, Mo., in January 2014.

Bell said a meeting was scheduled for Feb. 1, but was cancelled due to weather. He said refuge staff met with Element Power employees for the first time at the end of February.

“They told us they’re going to start pouring concrete this summer and start doing the roadwork,” Bell said. “We didn’t know about this ahead of time.”

Bell said refuge officials have repeatedly observed birds fly from the refuge to the nearby conservation areas before returning. He said a large number of birds have also been seen on private duck club land located in the proposed area.

He said he is not only concerned about the number of individual birds that could potentially strike a wind turbine, but that the structures could also result in long-term changes in migration.

Darrin Welchert, refuge wildlife biologist, said officials observed 282 bald eagles in fall 2013 and 177 in fall 2014.

Jane Ledwin, fish and wildlife biologist, said although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not require the company to purchase an eagle take permit, it is recommended they apply.

She said if any business does not possess a permit and an eagle is found near a wind turbine with injuries consistent with a collision, the company may be in violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

“We have tried to communicate our concerns to them,” Ledwin said. “All we can do is to make recommendations. The decision is up to them and the calculations they have for risk management.”

Welchert said nine bat species have also been found on the refuge including the federally endangered Indiana Bat. The Northern Myotis, also found on the refuge, is currently being considered for listing next fall.

On Monday, more than 1.1 million snow geese were observed on the refuge. In 2012-2013, officials recorded 38 million geese, 6 million dabblers and 18,000 swans on the refuge alone.

John McDaniels, seasoned area hunter, said he is concerned that the construction of wind turbines will impact more than just birds.

He used to hunt deer near King City, Mo., before Bluegrass Ridge Wind Farm by Wind Capital Group was built in 2007. He said he saw changes in the landscape and the next year there were fewer deer in the same areas.

“They cleared all the brush in the area out,” McDaniels said. “All the fence lines were moved out of the area so the quail had nowhere to go and neither did the deer.”

Element Power can be contacted online at www.facebook.com/millcreekwindfarm and www.elpower.com.

According to Element Power’s website, the phone number for the Central U.S. Office based in Minneapolis, Minn., is (612) 294-4600.

Source:  Outdoor proponents worry about wind farm | By Margaret Slayton | St. Joseph News-Press | March 14, 2014 | www.newspressnow.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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