Ohio-based bird group questions study on wind farm

Oak Harbor, Ohio — The proposed Icebreaker/LEEDCo offshore wind project, which would place up to six huge wind turbines in central Lake Erie, eight miles from downtown Cleveland, poses a significant hazard to both birds and bats moving across or living on the lake, says the Oak Harbor-based Black Swamp Bird Observatory.

BSBO recently issued a position statement on Icebreaker, ahead of a July 19 public hearing in Cleveland, scheduled for 6 p.m. in Cleveland City Council chambers. Icebreaker, it contends, is the first freshwater offshore wind energy project proposed in North America, and is just the tip of the iceberg. The pilot project would be just the demonstration project for a long-term plan to place hundreds more turbines on the lake.

“Therefore,” the organization contends, “scientific validity needs to meet scientific standards and methodology of a lake-wide risk assessment.

“This demonstration project can only fulfill its purpose if the science behind the ecological studies is transparent – that is, publicly available – rigorous, well-designed, and capable of detecting either fatal effects or changes in behavior caused to birds and bats by the turbines,” states BSBO. “In nearly a decade of attempts by environmental consultants hired by LEEDCo to provide such a science, they have consistently and continuously failed to do so.”

For the record, BSBO consistently has stated that it is not opposed to wind energy projects, as long as they are properly sited to minimize killing of migrating birds and bats. However, the organization contends, the wind industry consistently has resorted to consultant science of dubious credibility to shore up its position.

“Except for both guidance and prodding by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Ohio Power Siting Board, LEEDCo never would have attempted a rigorous scientific assessment of its turbines’ expected ecological impact,” states BSBO. “It seems they deem the ecological impact as an afterthought to the engineering and financial considerations of the project.”

For its part, LEEDCo states on its website that the project would pose minimal risk to birds and bats, according to its consultant-based wildlife risk analysis.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has stated that any impact of Icebreaker Wind on birds and bats will be minor,” contends LEEDCo. “The Service has also concluded that the project will not adversely affect any federally listed endangered or threatened species. The Draft Environmental Assessment prepared by the (U.S.) Department of Energy, in cooperation with the Army Corps and Coast Guard, also makes a draft finding that the project will have no significant impact on fish, wildlife, or the environment.

“The DOE and USFWS conclusions of low risk to fish and wildlife are consistent with the aquatic/fisheries risk assessment prepared for Icebreaker by LimnoTech, and with the avian and bat risk assessment prepared by Western EcoSystems Technology Inc. (WEST).”

LEEDCo also states that “WEST’s analysis concluded that the project poses low risk of adverse impacts to birds and bats, based largely on two principal observations: 1) the project is small in scale, consisting of six turbines; 2) the level of use of this area by birds and bats is low compared to bird and bat use of terrestrial or nearshore environments.”

BSBO contends, however, that much more is at stake.

“It is crucial to recognize that BSBO documented more than 40 instances of inappropriate assumptions, false conclusions, or misuse of literature citations in its review of the WEST risk assessment that have not been addressed. Moreover, LEEDCo has to date failed to meet the requirements of the Bird and Bat MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources on field assessment. Importantly, this is a demonstration project aimed at the hope of placing thousands of turbines in the eastern basin of Lake Erie, here and on the Canadian side, and that LEEDCo must provide clear evidence that it is ecologically safe to do so or the project will fail as a demonstration.

“Therefore, Black Swamp Bird Observatory is opposed to going forward with this project unless and until LEEDCo can provide a plan for the scientific assessment of its ecological impacts that is reasonably capable of fulfilling the purpose of any demonstration project of this nature. If the assessment as planned is seemingly incapable of providing to the full extent of the information for which the project was initiated, then it should not proceed at all.

“The project’s draft environmental assessment (EA) still not been ruled on by the Army Corps of Engineers and should be required before certification moves forward,” BSBO contends. “With the immense bird activity on and above Lake Erie, the precedent-setting nature of this project, and the completely inadequate field work conducted by the applicant (LEEDCo), and the utter absence of any post-construction mortality risk assessment mortality monitoring plan, it is obvious the EA completed by the DOE is incapable of assessing the risk to birds and bats. We strongly recommend the DOE step back, follow the original, contrary recommendation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and complete a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for multiple reasons that are detailed in our EA review.”

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