The American Bird Conservancy in Washington, D.C., submitted a records request to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Freedom of Information Act for the Mill Creek Wind Farm proposed in Holt County.
The bird conservation organization received records from the request made in May for what is proposed to be the largest wind farm in Missouri.
A map from the project developer Element Power in March shows that the location of the turbines is proposed between Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge and seven conservation areas.
Scott Zeimetz, project manager for Element, said the company has leased 30,000 acres of private land in the county since 2010 and plans to build between 84 and 118 wind turbines to produce 200 megawatts of electricity.
According to Element Power’s website, they were established in 2008 by Hudson Clean Energy Partners, a global private equity firm.
The conservancy’s request was for bird and bat pre-construction studies for the project and correspondence in regards to them, any communication by service staff concerning potential wildlife impacts and correspondence between service staff and Element or any environmental consultants.
According to emails obtained from the service in May, Element said they are pursuing a bald and golden eagle take permit and have completed a draft eagle conservation plan. However, they had not yet submitted it to the service for processing.
The service also states Element has hired West Environmental and Statistical Consultants, Inc., based in Minneapolis to conduct wildlife research.
However, no pre-construction studies or conservation plans for bats or eagles conducted by Element or West have been released by the service in response to the request.
The service said they are concerned about the potential for a high level of displacement and mortality rates of bald eagles, protected bat species and other migratory birds.
Though wind turbine facilities are not required to apply for permits before building and all recommendations are voluntary, the service said if a developer builds without permits they could be fined if protected species are killed.
According to an email from the service in January, the Columbia Missouri Field Office and Drew Becker, an eagle take permit coordinator for the project in Moline, Ill., have been working with at least two companies since 2009 on the Mill Creek project to support their application for a 30-year eagle take permit.
In December 2013, the service said Element expanded the project by 38 percent to include 87 to 133 wind turbines.
To be considered for a bald eagle permit, an applicant must identify specific activities that will result in the take of the species, develop their monitoring and reporting program to the service, quantify impacts to eagles and submit an application processing fee of $36,000.
According to the service, one eagle take permit has been issued to a wind farm in the United States. However, there has not been a wind facility that has been shut down for the deaths of protected species.
Amy Salveter, the endangered species coordinator for the project from the Columbia Mo. Field Office, stated the service has received information from the Missouri Department of Conservation indicating the presence of the federally endangered Indiana Bat and the Northern Long-Eared Bat, proposed for federal listing as endangered, on the nearby conservation areas.
However, Salveter also stated the conservation department did not conduct a service-approved study and that data would not be used to determine if the service will issue an endangered species permit for the project. She stated the service will only use the data submitted by Element if they apply.
The service also stated they are planning to send additional information for the FOIA request, but since it has been designated as one including complex processing it may take an additional 60 days to provide more information.
The state of Missouri has no environmental regulations pertaining to wind farm development.
This June, Gov. Jay Nixon assigned the Missouri Department of Economic Development’s Division of Energy to create a comprehensive state energy plan and to gather input from citizens on topics including environmental concerns.
“This process is in its early stages, and it would be premature to speculate with any level of detail about what future requirements for wind energy development may look like,” said Amy Susan, director of communication for the division of energy.
Comments to the state energy plan can be made by phone at (855) 522-2796.
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