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So long to wind project

A major proposed project to produce wind energy from towers erected in Holt County, Mo., has come to a sudden halt, and there are lots of folks to thank for that.

Certainly, some in the region will see this as a missed opportunity. After all the developer, Element Power of Portland, Ore., had proposed to erect around 100 wind turbines on 30,000 acres of leased private land.

The company said the project, known as Mill Creek, would require 300 workers during construction and create 12 to 14 permanent jobs. Individual landowners stood to gain for every tower on their property.

This loomed as a substantial boost to an area that has had plenty of economic setbacks, including repeated floods from the Missouri River. But the development also posed unusual risks.

Conservationists rallied to challenge the project as unwise due to the potential for harming some of Holt County’s biggest attributes – its standing as a flight path stopover for thousands of migratory birds and as host to a world-class birding sanctuary, Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.

These ecological impacts, in turn, could have dealt a damaging blow to the regional businesses and communities that depend on the influx of refuge visitors and outdoor enthusiasts.

For our part, we always felt uneasy about this proposal but joined with others in wanting to defer to the experts. The problem, however, is government oversight of wind farm developers is limited, meaning expert opinions carry less weight.

In the end, Element Power withdrew the project rather than try to scale back operations to meet conservationists’ compelling arguments. The company said it could comply with requests to minimize the impact to wildlife, including by turning off the turbines during periods of heavy migration, but such steps would reduce the return on its investment.

A number of supporters of wildlife and the refuge argued for this ending – either no turbine project, or one modified to address reasonable concerns. From the Missouri Department of Conservation to the various birding and wildlife advocates who spoke up, there is plenty of credit to be passed around.