PORTAGE TOWNSHIP – For about 50 years, Lake Erie has basically been John Lipaj’s backyard. Growing up in Bay Village at his parents’ house overlooking the lake, Lipaj developed a love and passion for what is Ohio’s greatest natural resource that has since never faded.
But the idea of looking out to appreciate the breathtaking natural beauty of Lake Erie’s diverse coastline only to see it blemished by hulking offshore wind turbines emerging over the horizon is not one Lipaj is ready to welcome with open arms.
Lipaj, who sits on the board of the Lake Erie Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to sustaining and protecting the waters of Lake Erie, is not alone in that sentiment.
A study conducted at North Carolina State University found that more than half of vacationers surveyed would not rent a vacation home if turbines were in view, even if discounts were offered on the rental price.
Economic researchers who worked on the study surveyed a total of 484 people who had recently rented homes on the coast in North Carolina, and more specifically within regions where the state offers offshore leases for wind farm development.
Of those surveyed, 54 percent said they would not rent a vacation home if turbines were in view, according to the study.
The real-world impact of turbines
More important to Lipaj and the Lake Erie Foundation than obstructed views is the real-world impact offshore wind turbines would have on wildlife, the natural ecosystem and environment that is crucial to why Lake Erie is such a popular destination for tourists.
The risk to the lake and the richly diverse wildlife that traverse it is among the reasons the Lake Erie Foundation has come out publicly opposed to a proposed offshore wind turbine development titled “Icebreaker Wind.”
Lipaj was asked to lead a discussion regarding the topic at the Marblehead Peninsula Chamber of Commerce’s community business update meeting this week.
Many of the members of the Marblehead Peninsula Chamber of Commerce are tourism-based businesses that depend on Lake Erie.
According to the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation, or LEEDCo, a Cleveland-based nonprofit organization spearheading the efforts to make Icebreaker Wind a reality, the project calls for six wind turbines capable of generating 20.7 megawatts to be constructed eight miles from downtown Cleveland in Lake Erie.
It would be the first freshwater offshore wind project in North America.
Potentially fatal impact on migrating birds
Birding groups have long opposed a proposed wind turbine like this one that had been proposed for Camp Perry, saying any turbines built along the Lake Erie shore would harm birds migrating through northwest Ohio, also hurting tourism and the local economy. (Photo: File)
LEEDCo describes Icebreaker Wind as a “demonstration project” and states among its other missions as an organization are to drive future offshore wind projects in the Great Lakes, creating thousands of jobs and contributing to clean air and water.
The problem with the project for the Lake Erie Foundation and others opposed to offshore wind farms here is the potentially devastating impact it could have a migrating birds that traverse the lake.
According to Mark Shieldcastle, research director at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, millions of birds fly across the lake twice a year.
The Black Swamp Bird Observatory, or BSBO, a nonprofit research organization founded in 1992 to study bird migration throughout the region, has been fighting proposed wind farm developments in the area for years.
The mortality rates for migrating birds that result directly from the wind turbines can be devastating to the populations, according to the BSBO, and have an even broader impact on the ecosystem as a whole.
“The project is simply not environmentally sound,” Lipaj said. “And it’s not just because of the birds that would die during migration.”
More potential issues
Lipaj referenced a study conducted by the Nature Conservancy, which recommended not having wind turbines constructed within five miles of the Great Lakes coastlines as the noise and activity from construction could draw in predator fish to spawning grounds for popular game fish, such as walleye and perch.
Another potential issue that concerns the Lake Erie Foundation is the riling up of sediment at the bottom that sits atop toxic pollutants from generations of pollution in the Cuyahoga River.
Lipaj cited the “public trust doctrine” pertaining to the lake, arguing that the land under Lake Erie is owned by the state of Ohio and is to be held in trust for the benefit of Ohio citizens.
“This land under Lake Erie where this project will be built now has a 50 years lease going to a Norwegian multinational company when that land is supposed to be held in trust to benefit us,” Lipaj said.
“The Lake Erie Foundation has found overwhelming scientific and practical evidence that the environmental and economic costs of Icebreaker far outweighs the benefits that are being sold to use.”