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Greens sue military, Interior over Ohio turbine project

Two bird advocacy groups have filed a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration and Ohio Air National Guard, claiming a single wind turbine the Air Force wants to build along the shores of Lake Erie could prove disastrous to sensitive migratory bird species.

The lawsuit, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, targets a planned wind turbine at the Camp Perry facility in northern Ohio.

The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and the Oak Harbor, Ohio-based Black Swamp Bird Observatory say the turbine would violate the Endangered Species Act and other federal laws and would threaten a host of sensitive avian species, including bald eagles and federally endangered Kirtland’s warblers and piping plovers.

The Air National Guard (ANG) “is aware that the proposed turbine is sited in a major bird migration corridor, is located in close proximity to numerous bald eagle nests, and is likely to kill species protected under the Endangered Species Act,” the 31-page complaint says.

The groups also say a biological opinion conducted by the Fish and Wildlife Service, which regulators used in evaluating the project, is flawed, in part because the ANG built “the foundation for the wind turbine” before the service finished its review – a violation of the ESA, the complaint says.

It adds that the ANG “is aware that the turbine will kill birds, and specifically threatens ESA-listed species and federally protected eagles,” and must complete an environmental impact statement and obtain a permit under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act or “the operation of the turbine will violate that Act.”

They ask the court to enjoin the ANG from building the wind turbine, obtain permits under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and conduct an EIS.

They also want the court to order “FWS to prepare a new Biological Opinion that considers all relevant factors and is based on the best available science,” the complaint says.

The complaint lists acting Air Force Secretary Lisa Disbrow and Ohio Air National Guard Col. Andy Stephan as defendants, along with FWS acting Director Jim Kurth and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

“The Great Lakes region – the site of one of the world’s greatest confluences of migratory birds and bats – is perhaps the worst possible place for wind energy development,” said Michael Hutchins, director of ABC’s Bird-Smart Wind Energy Program, in a statement.

The conservation groups say that FWS conducted a radar study that found excessively high risks to birds and bats from wind turbines placed along the shores of the Great Lakes.

An Ohio Air National Guard spokeswoman told E&E News they cannot comment on pending or ongoing litigation. An FWS spokeswoman also declined comment, saying they cannot discuss matters pertaining to ongoing litigation.

The guard has said it wants to build the turbine to test wind energy and evaluate potential impacts to migratory birds in the region as it works to move toward more renewable energy sources.

But the conservation groups say building a large wind turbine close to the shores of Lake Erie is a poor choice.

“We have many peer-reviewed studies documenting the impact of wind energy on birds and bats. And yet it takes a lawsuit to protect one of the most important migratory bird stopover habitats in the Western Hemisphere,” said Kimberly Kaufman, executive director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory, in a statement. “It’s another sad commentary on the lack of wind energy regulations in this country.”