OAK HARBOR, Ohio – For the second time since 2014, the Ohio Air National Guard has backed away from its plans to erect a commercial-scale, $1.5 million wind turbine at Camp Perry – a decision that the region’s biggest birding organization hopes will put an end to five years of contentious litigation and send a message to other would-be developers.
“This is a very important victory for migratory birds,” said Kim Kaufman, executive director of the Oak Harbor-based Black Swamp Bird Observatory.
BSBO and the national American Bird Conservancy of Washington tag-teamed on a defense of shoreline habitat for a second time. At risk are bald eagles and other raptors, as well as migratory songbirds, and bats.
A Jan. 28, 2014 letter signed by Air Force Col. Peter Sartori, director of installations and mission support and an officer in the National Guard Bureau, led birders to believe the issue was behind them. In the letter, Colonel Sartori stated the project “will not go forward at this time” because of objections.
The National Guard left open the possibility that it could revisit the project, though, and ultimately did just that when it laid the foundation base for a 198-foot-high turbine at the camp, which is about 30 miles east of downtown Toledo and along the western Lakrie shoreline just past the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Magee Marsh, and FirstEnergy Corp.’s Davis-Besse nuclear plant. The latter was built on a federally protected wildlife refuge.
The apparent plan to rejuvenate the project prompted the birding organizations to renew their objections. The groups claimed the National Guard had spent $200,000 on the foundation without first obtaining a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion about potential impacts on birds and bats.
The project has been seen for years as a big-picture battleground. The western Lake Erie region, especially along the Ottawa County marshes, lies in the heart of two major North American bird flyways. The shoreline there is seen as one of North America’s most sensitive avian corridors.
Commercial wind-energy developers have been waiting to see how the controversy plays out, because they covet the region’s wind resource, its proximity to the regional electric grid, and population. There are more people living along the Lake Erie shoreline between Detroit and Cleveland than any other stretch of shoreline in the Great Lakes region.
“This project had so many bigger implications,” Ms. Kaufman said. “It was clear to us this turbine was meant to pave the way for commercial-scale development.”
The National Guard’s last statement on the project came last fall, when it acknowledged an environmental assessment was “under review with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Guard Bureau and the U.S. Air Force.” It vowed to do the project in compliance with federal laws.
Michael Hutchins, ABC’s bird-smart wind energy campaign director, called the proposed turbine site “perhaps the worst possible place for wind energy development.”
The birding groups now turn their attention to the adjacent Lake Erie Business Park, which erected a 325-foot turbine almost four years ago and now appears to be preparing to erect another large turbine.
Northwest Ohio receives about $37 million in ecotourism from an estimated 75,000 visitors during the peak migration months of April and May.