A U.S. District Court judge ruled a federal agency was within its rights when it issued a take permit to a proposed Champaign County wind farm that critics said could harm an endangered bat.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued an incidental take permit to the Buckeye Wind Project in 2013, allowing the wind farm to kill a limited number of bats over the life of the project under specific conditions. But Union Neighbors United, a group of area residents, filed a complaint arguing the federal agency did not follow strict enough standards in granting the permit, among other arguments.
Court documents show U.S. District Judge Richard Leon upheld the Wildlife Service’s initial decision, clearing one of several remaining hurdles for the proposed wind farm. The project is split into two phases and includes a total of about 100 turbines spread across Champaign County.
If built, proponents have said it could generate enough electricity to power 50,000 homes a year. But opponents have raised concerns, which include noise and the project’s proximity to nearby residents.
“We’re working through a lot of different fronts, so as we move past these issues it helps get us closer to bringing the project to construction,” said Mike Speerschneider, senior director for permitting for Everpower Renewables, the company in charge of the project.
Company officials have said they’d prefer to build both phases of the project at the same time. Both phases have been approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board, but members of the residents group have since appealed the state’s decision to approve the second phase. The Ohio Supreme Court has not yet set a date to hear arguments in that case, Speerschneider said.
Attorneys for the residents group could not be reached for comment about the take permit Monday.
Court documents show the Indiana bat is found along much of the Eastern U.S., with populations in Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio, among others. It was listed as endangered in 1967 due to a decrease in population and a lack of winter habitat.
The bats can be found in the proposed wind farm area in June and July and they travel through Champaign County in the spring and fall as part of their migration, court documents show.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials have said the take permit is designed to limit the number of bats that can be killed or injured. It set a limit of 130 bats throughout the life of the project, or about 5.2 bats per year. It also required the project developers to protect and improve about 217 acres of Indiana bat habitat near a hibernation area in Preble County.
The turbines would also be required to vary their cut-in speeds, depending on their location and the time of year, to minimize the number of bats that collide with the turbines. The wind farm would also be required to monitor the number of bats killed, and may have to modify how the turbines operate to further protect the bats if it exceeds those limits.
Attorneys for the residents group argued the federal agency violated portions of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, including arguments the agency ignored proposed alternatives that would have further reduced the number of bats killed. But the court disagreed, arguing the agency made reasonable efforts to ensure the effect on the bats was mitigated.
Developers are still optimistic the wind farm will eventually move forward, Speerschneider said.
“We still do think the project has a lot of support in the community and we think it will bring a lot of benefits,” Speerschneider said. “We are still working to make it a reality.”
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