Bird groups upset with effort to renew project on migratory route
PORT CLINTON — To the dismay of area birders, the Ohio National Guard is restarting its controversial plan for erecting a taxpayer-funded, commercial-scale wind turbine at Camp Perry at a cost of $1.5 million.
Kimberly Kaufman, Black Swamp Bird Observatory executive director, told The Blade she learned about the decision during a recent meeting with Camp Perry leadership. She said her group will once again seek legal help from a national advocacy group, the American Bird Conservancy, to block the project.
“It’s definitely back on the table,” Mark Shieldcastle, the observatory’s research director, agreed.
The National Guard said in a Jan. 28, 2014, letter that it was suspending the project, but leaving open the possibility of eventually rejuvenating it. The letter was addressed to a Washington attorney who represented the two birding organizations.
Now, those who have been following the issue said they have learned the National Guard is in the final stages of completing an environmental assessment, a step needed to get the project off the ground.
They said that is expected to be filed in the coming weeks and is subject to review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which earlier had expressed concerns about the project.
The birding groups filed a letter of intent to sue two years ago, claiming the project would violate the Endangered Species Act and other federal conservation and environmental laws.
The groups gathered more than 5,000 signatures on a petition in opposition to the project, which they contend will endanger migratory birds because of its proximity to the western Lake Erie shoreline.
Ms. Kaufman, who has accused the National Guard of bypassing some procedural steps in the past, said her group is in the early stages of rallying another round of opposition.
“All of our efforts have been above reproach,” she said. “We’re going to have to get the public fired up.”
Nicole Ashcroft, Ohio National Guard spokesman, said the agency is not in a position to field questions about the project yet, but hopes to make officials available for interviews soon.
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) has not yet been notified, said Steve Katich, Miss Kaptur’s chief of staff.
Planning for the turbine began in 2007, Ms. Kaufman said.
“It’s very clear there’s a strong determination to put this turbine into Camp Perry,” she said.
At 198-feet high, the proposed Camp Perry turbine would be smaller than the 325-foot turbine erected by the adjacent Lake Erie Business Park about three years ago.
But birders said the National Guard project is significant because it’s on government land and in the middle of major migratory routes.
Their fear is that the Camp Perry project, because it would be backed by the federal government, would open the door to more big machines being erected along the shoreline.
That, they said, would make the job of protecting Lake Erie’s marshes, especially those in Ottawa and Erie counties, and putting species as common as ducks and geese at risk, not to mention rare and endangered migratory songbirds, such as the Kirtland’s warbler.
The western Lake Erie region is a sweet spot for the wind industry because the shallow water and access to the regional electric grid offers the greatest yield.
Critics see Camp Perry as a test case for what could eventually lead to hundreds of turbines — similar to the endless sight of turbines drivers encounter along Ontario’s Highway 401, especially between London and Windsor.
“If we lose this one, there is no stopping it,” Mr. Shieldcastle said.
Gildo Tori, director of public policy for Ducks Unlimited’s Great Lakes office, said western Lake Erie has “one of the greatest concentrations of private waterfowl hunting clubs in the United States.”
“It’s a key migration zone,” Mr. Tori said. “You don’t put [wind turbines] into an area where you know you have millions of birds going through twice a year.”
He said the plan “doesn’t make ecological sense and it doesn’t make economic sense” because of what birding has meant to the state’s tourism industry.
Larry Fletcher, Lake Erie Shores & Islands executive director, said the observatory’s figures show the region gets about $37 million in economic impact from an estimated 75,000 visitors during the peak migration months of April and May.
“We would just encourage those who are looking at this project or others would take into account the impact of tourism,” Mr. Fletcher said. “Every year, we’re putting a little more of our resources into the birding audience.”
In a 2012 letter to Air Force and National Guard officials, Mr. Fletcher said his group is remaining neutral on the debate over turbines. But he added that Lake Erie is a major reason why many people travel to this area and “any development that takes place along the shoreline has the potential to impact tourism.”
He said Ottawa County also has had a steady increase in bird-related tourism in recent years.