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Turbines due close review

Mill Creek wind farm has the potential to be more than the largest wind farm in Missouri. It also could be disruptive to migratory birds and impact the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.

Element Power of Portland, Ore., which is developing Mill Creek, proposes erecting more than100 wind turbines in a 30,000-acre area in Holt County. The project area lies east of Squaw Creek between seven conservation areas.

This part of our region is a vibrant bird conservation area, with about 300 different species of birds annually flying through the refuge. Bald eagles and waterfowl are among the annual visitors.

Rotating wind turbines could cause trouble for these birds and native bats. Conservation groups have raised formal complaints, saying they are worried the wildlife could be killed or would have to change flight patterns to adapt.

Raising the flag of the Endangered Species Act is a contentious issue in Holt County, which has been hard hit by flooding and river management issues of the Missouri River related to species protection. The wind farm could bring economic vitality to the county, projecting to hire 300 workers during construction, with 12 to 14 permanent jobs created once it is operating. Local landowners would profit from having a turbine on their property.

These gains, however, must be balanced against potential losses. Squaw Creek and hunting bring thousands of visitors to the county each year. Forfeiting those benefits through a decrease in bird populations could end up costing more than the wind farm would generate.

The Midland Empire has welcomed several wind farms in recent years. Still, it’s a reasonable argument that more study of the turbines’ impact on wildlife is needed before erecting the state’s largest project in close proximity to the refuge.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced it will accept public comment on revising rules related to permits for wind turbine development. The rules are expected to create more oversight for wind farm developers, something clearly needed in instances such as this one where government is limited in what it can do to influence the placement of turbines proposed for private property.

The impact of Mill Creek could be huge – both positive and negative – and it’s past time for those involved to recognize that not just the private property owners have a stake in this decision. Our thoughts are with Holt County citizens as they weigh the potential consequences of the development in the near and long term.