WESTOVER — A packed room of Somerset County residents and U.S. Wildlife Service officials debated the possible implementation of Great Bay Wind Energy’s application for an eagle take permit at the J.M. Tawes Technology Center.
The Wednesday evening public meeting intended to use public feedback to prepare an environmental assessment addressing potential impacts of the permit’s issuance for unavoidable “takes” by wind turbines. The permits allow wind farms and other operations to accidentally kill protected eagles.
If Pioneer Green is awarded a permit, it would require a five-year review process, which would mandate yearly monitoring. The Wildlife Service has the authority to deny the permit if it sees fit.
Andy Bowman, president of Pioneer Green Energy, who will develop the turbine project, said there may be negative impacts, but the ultimate goal is for cleaner energy.
“There will be some loss of life,” he said, in regards to birds that may be killed from the spinning turbines, but stressed Pioneer Green had looked at the environmental impacts when considering the project.
With seats full at the Tawes Center, some meeting attendees leaned against the wall and addressed their support or concern. One speaker said the company had “the most detailed analysis of our community” and others felt it would be a benefit to farmland, while another described the project as “erroneous” and worried that public information and studies should be clearer and easily accessible to the public.
David Curson, Audubon director of bird conservation, said his organization was still “very concerned,” about the project because of the area’s high eagle density.
"Audobon is very concerned about the eagle take permit. This is a high density area for the bald eagle, and we have concerns for other bird species who may fly through the area who are not protected," he said.
In order to assess possible eagle impacts, the wildlife service studies nests and point-count surveys of the eagles to estimate likely fatalities. So far only nine eagles have been killed from turbines nationally.
Wildlife Service representative Julie Slocum encouraged the audience to “put numbers into context” and observe the intent of Pioneer Green’s project.
“The project’s main purpose is for clean energy,” she said.
After all correspondence, the Fish and Wildlife service will study the environmental impact of the turbines and present these studies for public comment.