Over 100 Eagles Could Be Killed By Bluestone Wind Turbines
Audubon Society Says These Estimates Too Low
Local opposition to the Bluestone Wind Project has included the concern for the number of eagles (Golden and Bald) that will be killed as a result of the wind turbines. Eagles soar high looking down for their prey. As they near the turbines, looking down, they are not aware of the turbine blades that are circling vertically downward and the eagles are chopped to death.
According to a recently unearthed document called “Cumulative Impacts Assessment” Appendix UU, which is document #752 on the NYSDPS-DMM-Matter Master website case #16-F-0559, and publicly available with the original September 2018 Bluestone Wind application on the Department of Public Service website, the number of eagles killed by the wind project over a 30 year period is estimated to be over one hundred eagles – at least 21 of which are federally protected Eastern Golden Eagles, unique to this area. The Audubon Society says the data submitted by Calpine, the original developer, is fundamentally flawed and that the real take numbers will be significantly higher.
Local opposition groups have been stepping up their scrutiny of the project. In the process they uncovered the existence of the appendix filed by attorneys for the applicant. This document provides proof that the long-kept secret numbers from US Fish & Wildlife for the expected eagle kill are significantly higher than the publicly used kill estimate for the project settled on by the DEC during the evidentiary hearings in July of 2019.
The USF&W numbers are based on a complicated Bayesian risk model. Anne Lawrence, BCCR co-chair, stated “Calpine, the original project developer, understood very well how detrimental these numbers would be if they became public knowledge, and had demanded a confidentiality protection from the DPS administrative judge overseeing the Article 10 permit procedure. As a result, these estimates were never shared with the general public during the course of the hearings.”
Golden Eagles are endangered species and face extinction. The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Eagle Act) prohibits the killing of any bald or golden eagles. Lawbreakers could face huge fines and even years of prison time. Wind turbines are the known #1 killer of eagles and USF&W uses the Bayesian Risk model to predict the bird mortality rate and assess the risks in areas where wind developers are scoping out their projects. Wind facility operators can now obtain a permit from the USF&W for the “take” of eagles that may occur while operating their facility. In order to get this permit, they need to provide data from local observation stations that illustrates eagle use in the project area, which is then run through the model. To comply with the Eagle Act permit regulations applicants must also identify conservation measures to avoid and minimize take of eagles to the maximum degree and design required programs for mitigating or offsetting losses to guarantee no net loss of eagles.
The data in the Bluestone wind studies was prepared by Western Ecosystems Technology Inc. (WEST), a company that specializes in producing avian studies for wind developers.
According to the Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society (DOAS) the numbers that WEST provided are far below what should have been reported. DOAS claims that as a result, the number of eagles killed in reality would be significantly higher.
There are various reasons that may be responsible for the under-reporting. Large portions of the survey area suffered from low visibility because of the topography and vegetation of the mountainous terrain, or were not surveyed at all. The Eastern Ridge of the Facility Site falls between two documented areas of high use by wintering and migratory eagles, and several turbines along this ridge were flagged as high risk to eagles, but due to limited visibility for WEST’s surveyors, eagles moving through this corridor were not incorporated into the take estimates. DOAS produced estimates indicating that an average of only 22% of the viewing area within which the count for the Bayesian model eagle numbers was done was visible from the eagle flight survey sites.
“There is also an issue with seasonal usage and the reported data,” explained Anne Lawrence. “Bald eagles reside in the Facility Site on a year-round basis, whereas Eastern golden Eagles are present in three out of four seasons, using the Facility Site for migratory and wintering purposes. The unprecedented and unexpected scale of Eastern golden eagles’ presence in winter months, as documented by the Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society (DOAS) and by Dr. Tricia Miller, an independent eagle data expert, needs to get more extensively surveyed during a new winter study,” Lawrence continued. “ Wintering eagles are the most vulnerable to turbine collision as compared to migrating birds, and the applicant’s materials make no firm commitment to mitigation for such wintering birds, though over fifty percent of eagles identified by DOAS should be classified as winter residents.”
As Dr. Tricia Miller noted in her testimony, “There is a general lack of knowledge of Golden Eagle ecology in the eastern USA and this general lack of knowledge can lead to inappropriate conclusions about habitat, distribution, and behavior of Golden Eagles in the East.”
Lawrence noted “WEST is specialized in avian studies in the western half of our country, and the team that produced the environmental impact studies lacked the proper experience to deal with the complicated issues for our Eastern based Bluestone Wind project. WEST has been criticized nationally as being a biased investigator. Their main job is to make a project look as good as possible and they seem to have no real interest in actually protecting the birds”. Lawrence continued “As consultants for Apex, another wind developer, they were at the center of a scandal when findings surfaced that the application for their Galloo Island wind utility on Lake Ontario failed to include the discovery of a bald eagle’s nest. This caused state agencies to withdraw from certain agreements and judges postponed the evidentiary hearing schedule on the project. WEST’s reputation was further tainted when they were found to have been repeatedly disturbing an Eagle nest by helicopter during a survey for the same developer on Galloo Island.”
“For the Article 10 permit, Calpine used the limitations of the Bayesian Risk model as an argument not to rely on their predictions, and with blessing from the DEC they settled on a far lower estimated eagle kill number by using an alternative method called “Weight-of-Evidence” (WOE), stated Lawrence. “Based on the WOE, the Bluestone Wind farm will only produce 3 or 4 Golden eagles kills and 6 Bald Eagles during the lifespan of the project, rather than 21 Golden Eagles and 84 Bald Eagles as estimated by the much more reliable Bayesian Risk approach.”
“WOE calculations rely on ‘comparable’ data from other local projects. In our case, that would be data from other wind farms in the Northeast. However, no relevant data is available. Like wind facilities nationwide, NYS wind energy generating facilities are not required to report their “take” (or kill) to government officials. Further, not all areas have equally high eagle populations and usage. Few NYS wind facilities have operated long enough to produce significant results and none use turbines as tall as Bluestone’s. Therefore, say opponents of this method, the fact that there are ‘no recorded deaths in the Northeast’ can’t be used to conclude that ‘there will be no recorded deaths from Bluestone’ and it is a meaningless reference,” stated Lawrence.
Heather DeHaan, approved by Judge Mullaney to review Bluestone’s filings on eagles and environmental justice, calls it a “scandalous practice,” and says that “furthermore, the applicant has not made adequate provision for mitigating impacts to bald and golden eagles—not in its layout alternatives, not during construction, and not during project operations. The testimony from the Audubon Society confirmed this position.”
Says DeHaan, “In this project, consideration for environmental impacts appears to have become an afterthought, a “problem” that the developer has sought to cast aside with assertions that the project’s climate benefits outweigh site-specific environmental impacts or by appealing to the capabilities of “adaptive management,” through which experts will supposedly solve all foreseeable problems.
Anne Lawrence adds, “There are no proven mitigation measures for the killings that are sure to
happen – the only one way to avoid these hundreds of birds from being slayed is to NOT build the turbines on these ridges where they hunt and fly. We are sincerely hoping that when people hear how many eagles will potentially get maimed and chopped by these blades, this will cause enough outcry to stop this project from happening here.
Also, notes Lawrence, “We still have our appeal case pending, which challenges the Siting Board’s permit for the Bluestone Wind project based on several important issues. The non-compliance with local law is one of them, and the fact that they under-reported the eagle use and provide no sufficient mitigation to avoid killing protected (Golden) eagles is another. Their whole application is fraught with mistakes that threaten to discredit the wind industry. Northland would be well advised to conduct further eagle studies, develop viable mitigation plans, and also to permit independent monitoring of eagle deaths at turbine sites. Public accountability will better serve both their reputation and the environment.
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