CLEVELAND, Ohio – A decision by the Trump administration to ease restrictions on companies that accidentally kill migratory birds came as the developers of a Lake Erie wind farm are studying the potential impact of the turbines on birds.
There’s a debate between environmental groups and the wind project developers whether the changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act will have any impact on North America’s first freshwater offshore wind farm, scheduled to be constructed in Lake Erie this year.
“Based on our preliminary reading of the Department of Interior ruling, it is our opinion at this time that it will not significantly impact Icebreaker,” said Beth Nagusky of the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp., the nonprofit development group that is guiding the project.
LEEDCo continues to conduct bi-weekly aerial surveys of Lake Erie birds in the vicinity of the future Icebreaker site, Nagusky said. The findings have been positive, he added.
“Our risk assessment shows that our six-turbine project poses minimal risk to birds and bats,” Nagusky said. “Regardless, we still plan to conduct rigorous pre- and post-construction monitoring, and adopt mitigation and adaptive management measures, to proactively protect fish and wildlife.”
LEEDCo has submitted environmental applications to the Ohio Power Siting Board detailing its plans for monitoring and analyzing the impact of the wind farm on birds, bats and fish.
Approval of the plans is required before LEEDCo can proceed with construction of the $126 million wind project planned for a site about eight to 10 miles northwest of Cleveland.
Bird advocates, however, believe that the weakening of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act “might have some impact on Icebreaker,” said Michael Hutchins, director of the American Bird Conservancy’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign.
He said that the Icebreaker pilot project posed potential dangers to migratory birds before the Department of the Interior ruled the law applied only to “purposeful actions” that kill migratory birds, and not to energy companies and other businesses that inadvertently kill birds.
“We know that poorly placed wind turbines kill birds and bats, so this is hardly ‘inadvertent,'” Hutchins said. “We don’t agree with the Administration’s decision on this and are exploring options now.”
Matt Butler of the Ohio Power Siting Board declined to comment on the Department of Interior’s move.
“While we’re aware of the opinion issued by the DOI, we cannot comment on the impact the decision may or may not have on the Icebreaker Wind project,” Butler said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that more than 30 million birds die annually from collisions with power lines, communications towers, buildings and wind turbines.
National Audubon Society officials said the decision “guts the treaty and runs counter to decades of legal precedent and conservation principles.”
“We will engage our 1.2 million members to defend the MBTA from this and any other attack on the laws that protect birds,” said David O’Neill, Audubon’s chief conservation officer.
The Dec. 22 opinion supersedes a prior court opinion that determined the MBTA prohibited the taking and killing of migratory birds “by any means and in any manner,” including incidental taking and killing.
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