DELTA COUNTY, MI – Some residents of Garden Peninsula, a scenic Upper Peninsula community on Lake Michigan’s northern shore, say power-generating turbines have hurt their quality of life while killing birds, including eagles and other protected species, on migratory routes.
The residents and Garden Peninsula Foundation have filed a federal lawsuit against Traverse City-based Heritage Sustainable Energy seeking damages and asking that the project, with 14 turbines, be re-evaluated or abandoned. They are also trying to stop expansion.
“Putting it out there and having to live with it was bad enough, but now, to have an expansion is unconscionable,” attorney Susan Hlyway Topp told MLive and The Grand Rapids Press.
Heritage Garden Wind Farm, which generates enough power to supply nearly half of the households in Delta County with clean energy, contends it is a good neighbor. At this point, it has no plans to expand, although there are property owners who would welcome turbines on their land, said Rick Wilson, vice president of operations.
He said that his company “is in compliance with all county, state and federal regulations.”
Wilson said the foundation’s claims “have no merit,” and he vowed that “Heritage will vigorously defend itself in court.”
The attorney for the property owners believes this is the first such federal case filed in Michigan. The case is being handled in U.S. District Court in Marquette.
The wind farm became operational in September 2002, with 14 2-megawatt wind turbines.
The company said it has been well-received by the community, bringing jobs, particularly during construction, tax money, and royalties to 53 landowners who are expected to share $250,000 to $400,000 every year.
The project encompasses 10,000 acres.
During construction, $10 million went into the local community, with over 40 local and regional businesses in the Upper Peninsula used for site work, equipment rental, fuel, materials, food and lodging. In all, 75 workers took part in construction, the company said.
The company contends animal mortality rates are similar to those in other places in the U.S., with assessments ongoing.
“We really have long-standing, conservation-minded owners and staff,” Wilson said.
The lawsuit tells another story.
The residents listed in the lawsuit, which also names Kenneth Salazar, U.S. Secretary of Interior, and the U.S. Fish and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as defendants, say their quality of life – and property values – have been diminished by “the disturbing audible noise, vibrations, and shadow flicker from the wind turbines (that) have invaded the individual plaintiffs’ homes and properties … .”
Then, there is the high cost to wildlife, the lawsuit said.
The foundation contends that the Fish and Wildlife Service, in a Nov. 4, 2011, letter to the power company, recommended against constructing the energy development in the Garden Peninsula “due to the high potential for avian mortalities and violations of Federal Wildlife laws, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.”
Wetlands and the peninsula itself act as a “funnel” for migratory birds crossing Lake Michigan.
The lawsuit said the plaintiffs believe that reports have been submitted to the Fish and Wildlife Service showing that eagles have been killed in the 450-feet-high turbines. The Fish and Wildlife Service strongly disagreed with an expert for Heritage over his assessment of avian risk, and said it “is likely to pose a very high risk for avian mortalities, including a high risk for bald eagle mortalities,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit said the Fish and Wildlife Service said no turbines should be located within 3 miles of the shoreline, which would make placement on the peninsula difficult.
Topp contended that leaders of Garden Township and Delta County had “no experience with or understanding of the likely adverse effects of the massive noisy machines” when the turbines were constructed. Residents were told the turbines would be no louder than a refrigerator.
“Those representations were false,” Topp wrote.
The township late last year passed a nuisance noise abatement ordinance but the lawsuit said it has not yet gone into effect.
“These turbines were constructed and began operation with no environmental impact assessment performed by any federal or state agency, despite known use of the area for nesting, foraging and migration by numerous birds including eagles and protected species,” Topp wrote.
“The Foundation and its members believe that the activities which are the subject of this action either will or are likely to unlawfully impair or destroy natural resources, including but not limited to rare, threatened, endangered or protected avian and bat wildlife and their natural habitat in the Garden Peninsula, including eagles, Kirtland’s Warbler, Piping Plover, the Rufa red knot, other migratory birds and bats in violation of the Michigan Environmental Protection Act,” she wrote.
The foundation is described as a grassroots organization of property owners in Garden Peninsula.
“The foundation brings this action on its own behalf and also on behalf of its adversely affected members who live in and recreate in the Garden Peninsula and who enjoy the local ecosystem and the species within the ecosystem for recreation, scientific, spiritual, educational, aesthetic, and other purposes. These members also include Garden community residents, including farmers, living in close proximity to the Garden Wind Farm Project who enjoy the natural benefits provided by the migratory birds, avian and bat wildlife, such as tourism during migration periods, photography and insect control,” the lawsuit said.
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