American Bird Conservancy, one of the nation’s leading bird conservation organizations, is calling for a detailed reanalysis of a proposed wind power facility in Maryland that could prove to be the single most deadly project for Bald Eagles in the Americas. The Great Bay Wind Project is proposed to be located in Somerset County, Maryland, near the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
In letters sent to Thomas Miller, President of the Maryland Senate and Governor Martin O’Malley, ABC expresses strong support for Maryland House Bill 1168, which would mandate further studies of the proposed facility. Having passed the House by a wide margin, Maryland. HB 1168 will be considered by the State’s senate in the coming weeks and if passed and signed by the Governor, would delay possible approval of the Great Bay Wind Project for up to 13 months to allow a more detailed analysis of the environmental and economic impacts of this proposed development.
“Of particular concern to ABC and its members is the project’s potential impact on Bald Eagles, our national symbol and an emotional favorite of the American public,” said Dr. Michael Hutchins, National Coordinator of ABC’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign. “If this project is built to current projections, it may be the single most deadly project for Bald Eagles in the Americas, perhaps the world. It is ironic that it is also planned at a virtual stone’s throw from our Nation’s capital,” he said.
Hutchins says that while the project has been scaled back from earlier proposals, it still is quite large and if construction proceeds, will potentially involve two installations of about 20-25 turbines each, with turbine heights reaching approximately 600 feet. Depending on the size of the build out, it has been estimated that between 15-43 Bald Eagles will be killed annually by the project. Hutchins says that those projections are quite uncertain and are based on “ … untested models, which essentially amounts to an experiment with our public trust resources at stake.”
“We believe the Maryland House and Senate are right to be putting the brakes on the current irresponsible headlong rush to renewable energy development,” Hutchins said. “ABC supports responsible wind energy development, but only if it is Bird Smart. Bird smart wind energy development is primarily about appropriate risk assessment during siting and the location of this facility in close proximity to Chesapeake Bay and the height of the proposed turbines could be a deadly combination for birds.”
According to the ABC letter, Bald Eagle population estimates in the lower 48 states are nowhere near levels that existed before the pesticide DDT was banned in the early 1970s. “There are plenty of other locations that could be considered (for wind development),” the letter said, “Especially on already-developed farm land that is farther away from the bird-rich Chesapeake Bay.”
If the risks this facility poses to wildlife are to be properly assessed, ABC says it will be important to consider the project’s proximity to sensitive wildlife habitats, such as wetlands and wildlife refuges. ABC has already developed an interactive map that the nation’s wind developers can use as a siting tool. Most of Somerset County is colored orange on this map, indicating the need for extreme caution given the potential impact on birds, including the Saltmarsh Sparrow, which is listed as a Vulnerable species by the IUCN Red List.
Concerns exist in the U.S. House of Representatives about the enforcement of the federal laws designed to assure protection of eagles, including the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The House Committee on Natural Resources held a full committee oversight hearing on Wednesday, March 26th to examine enforcement actions by both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of the Interior (DOI). At the hearing, both DOJ and DOI were accused of enforcing eagle protection laws inconsistently.
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