Party to Galloo Article 10 review complains that DEC is actively working to suppress eagle information
[Gerald Smith, an ornithologist who lives in Barnes Corners] said flatly that nesting eagle and commercial wind cannot coexist on Galloo Island. “Frankly, no young eagle is going to make it off the island,” he said. “Eagle reproduction becomes biologically irrelevant with towers and rotors near the nests.” He noted that one of the Fish and Wildlife Services alternatives to eagle nesting on Galloo, tearing down nests and harassing flying eagles, will serve to “manage them out of existence” on the island.
A party to the Article 10 review of the proposed Galloo Island commercial wind project has complained to the siting board that the Department of Environmental Conservation is trying to suppress information about a bald eagle nesting site on the island, including an attempt to slap a gag order on all participants in the proceeding.
Clifford P. Schneider, in a communication filed Tuesday on the Public Service Commission’s Galloo Island Website, objected to a recent DEC directive threatening to seek sanctions on anyone who provides information on a yet-to-be-held site inspection in which a search for eagle nesting sites is supposed to be done.
“I believe the purpose of the restrictive conditions and the requirement that all those attending the site visit to Galloo sign the protective order may be designed to protect the interests of the Applicant’s project rather than protecting endangered or threatened species habitats, particularly the potential for bald eagle nesting on Galloo,” Mr. Schneider wrote. “My response, however, is submitted for the express purpose of protecting threatened and endangered species that may exist on Galloo Island.”
Public Service Commission spokesman James Denn responded to questions emailed to him Tuesday afternoon by including a statement made Friday by administrative Judge Ashley Moreno. He did not, however, answer specific questions provided by the Times.
Judge Moreno, in her posting to the case file documents, said that the DEC request is only considered a motion at this juncture.
“By email dated August 24, 2018, DEC requested that we amend the Protective Order in this proceeding to expand upon the definition of “Protected Information” to include any information learned on the scheduled site visit and requests additional conditions be adopted in the context of the Protective Order to address concerns about how such information is treated during the proceeding and afterwards,” she wrote. “It further requests that any party wishing to participate in the site visit be required to first sign the appropriate Protective Order acknowledgment.”
“As a preliminary matter, we are treating DEC’s request as a motion. While the request was served on parties, it was not filed with the Secretary. We have forwarded DEC’s motion and the subsequent related exchanges to the Secretary for posting.”
“Regarding DEC’s first request, our preliminary reaction is that only the definition of “Protected Information” would need to be altered to address DEC’s concerns and that the other suggested conditions are already present in the Protective Order and would become applicable if the definition of “Protected Information” were expanded to include “information learned on a site visit with the examiners about the precise location of any threatened, endangered, or rare species or their habitat.”
“Responses to DEC’s motion must be filed with the Secretary and served on all parties and the examiners no later than 4:30 p.m. Thursday, September 6, 2018.”
Mr. Schneider’s comments were filed on time to be considered by the siting board.
Mr. Schneider in August was given pictorial proof of the existence of an active eagle nest on the island, complete with photos of fledgling eagles with the distinctive first-year markings, including a dark, rather than white, head.
He sent that evidence to the DEC, expecting them to follow through with an investigation centered around the photographic proof.
Instead, he notes in his letter, “NYSDEC’s response to the bald eagle nesting report was an August 24, 2018 email to parties, not mentioning bald eagles as an issue, but proposing an amendment to the November 10, 2017 Protective Order. … Included in the request was a set of conditions related to what may be discussed and observed during the site visit to Galloo, as well as a condition that all parties visiting the site sign the amended Protective Order.”
The amended protective order threatened sanctions, up to and including criminal charges, for anyone who violated its restrictions.
“NYSDEC showed an unusual response to the notification of an important, new report of bald eagle nesting in Jefferson County. It was more oriented toward suppression and control than investigation,” Mr. Schneider wrote. “The Applicant’s actions also showed a pattern of trying to suppress, hide and withhold information related to bald eagle nesting on Galloo.”
Apex Clean Energy is proposing to build 30 turbines on Galloo Island, which includes a 32-mile underwater transmission cable that will interconnect with a substation in Oswego. The company says the 108.5 megawatt project is expected to generate enough electricity to power 35,000 homes and support up to six full-time local positions.
Neil T. Habig, Galloo project manager, responded to the posting by email.
“Clif’s filing discusses habitat and presence of protected species. NY DEC has requested that such information be carefully managed, in line with their regulations. There is a pending motion in the Article 10 case related to such information,” he wrote. “We are respecting DEC’s request on the pending matter. That Clif chose to disregard DEC and their regulations is an issue between Clif and DEC. We stand behind our application and supporting studies and we are committed to supporting the rigorous review of our application that the state process requires.”
Gerald Smith, an ornithologist who lives in Barnes Corners, said the public comments from Mr. Schneider are important.
“Clif nailed it,” Mr. Smith said. “This is a significant event because historically, there were significant populations of eagles around the Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, although he broke that down into pre-DDT decimation of the eagle population in general.
“The DDT effect was pretty devastating to eagles everywhere,” he said. “After DDTs were removed, there was a slow recovery” of eagles in the north country.
DDT was an ingredient in pesticides that was banned for its toxicity in 1972. Although there is some controversy of the effect of DDT poisoning of eagles, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it is one factor in the sharp drop of the eagle population from early in the 20th century on.
According to the service’s website, “Forty years ago, our national symbol was in danger of extinction throughout most of its range. Habitat destruction and degradation, illegal shooting, and the contamination of its food source, largely as a consequence of DDT, decimated the eagle population.”
Protecting eagles and eliminating DDT and other pollutants has slowly brought the population back.
Mr. Smith said flatly that nesting eagle and commercial wind cannot coexist on Galloo Island.
“Frankly, no young eagle is going to make it off the island,” he said. “Eagle reproduction becomes biologically irrelevant with towers and rotors near the nests.”
He noted that one of the Fish and Wildlife Services alternatives to eagle nesting on Galloo, tearing down nests and harassing flying eagles, will serve to “manage them out of existence” on the island.
Mr. Smith said he knows of nests on Grindstone Island in the St. Lawrence, in the Perch Lake protected area and at sites along the St. Lawrence in Canada, and said there are likely many he has not heard of.
“Eagles travel as far as 25 miles to fish. … As more and more wind towers appear along the flyway, the problem of disruption and avoidance will negatively affect an entire region,” he said.
“It’s a damned shame,” he added.
Claudia Maurer, also a party to the Article 10 review, said the DEC gag order made her “speechless.”
“It’s a complete, utter, total shock that DEC would do something like this,” Ms. Maurer said. She said the incident has shaken her faith in the Article 10 process.
“I hope this would raise awareness among the public on what’s happening out there,” she said. “This is scandalous.”
She said she was also appalled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is charged with reviewing eagle kill permits, suggested that the company could remove the nest and harass eagles flying near the island to keep other nests from being built.
“When my husband (Henderson Supervisor John Culkin) read that, he immediately tweeted his outrage to President Trump,” she said.
Mr. Culkin has received no reply from the White House.
BY THE NUMBERS
Galloo Island Wind Farm proposal:
■ 30 turbines
■ 600 foot-tall towers, blades as long as 180 feet
■ Megawatts per tower: 3.6
■ 32-mile underwater transmission cable
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