PORT CLINTON — A national birding organization based in suburban Washington is working with northwest Ohio’s Black Swamp Bird Observatory again on a lawsuit to block the Ohio Air National Guard’s plan for a commercial-scale wind turbine along the western Lake Erie shoreline.
The American Bird Conservancy and the state’s conservatory group announced this week they have sent the Ohio Air National Guard a notice of intent to file the lawsuit within 60 days unless the military agrees to nix its plans for the controversial $1.5 million project at Camp Perry.
In their 16-page notice sent by certified mail, the two birding conservancies called it an “ill-conceived and unlawful project.”
Representatives said were incensed to learn the Ohio Air National Guard laid the concrete foundation for the turbine before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had even produced a biological opinion about potential impacts on birds and bats.
In interviews with The Blade, spokesmen for both organizations claim $200,000 of taxpayer money was spent without authorization.
The Ohio Air National Guard did not grant an interview, and deferred comments to Stephanie Beougher, a public information officer for the Adjutant General's Department in Columbus.
Ms. Beougher issued a statement which acknowledged an environmental assessment “is currently under review with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Guard Bureau and the U.S. Air Force.”
“The Ohio Air National Guard will continue to work with them to ensure that, if the project goes forward, it will be done in compliance with the applicable regulatory and legal requirements,” the statement shows. “The proposal was initiated to move toward generating more energy through renewable resources in order to meet guidelines set in multiple presidential executive orders.”
Michael Hutchins, ABC’s bird-smart wind energy campaign director, said birders are fiercely opposed because the project appears to be a government attempt to back-door wind energy projects along one of North America’s most sensitive avian corridors.
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.
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 the Camp Perry project — because it would be backed by the federal government — would open the door to more large machines being erected along the shoreline.
“It’s one of the the most sensitive areas in the United States,” Mr. Hutchins said. “Even a single turbine in the wrong place can have destructive impacts.”
Kim Kaufman, Black Swamp Bird Observatory executive director, said she was also shocked to learn the foundation was laid before approval was granted by other agencies.
She said she does not want the turbine erected even if the National Guard follows through with a plan to have it turned off seven months a year while birds are migrating, arguing any data generated by doing that would be skewed.
“We’ve seen this happen before, where this junk science is used to pave the way,” Ms. Kaufman said. “It’s an officially designated, globally important birding area. Nobody debates that. The idea that we would begin to experiment with it is so backward it’s hard to wrap my head around it.”
Her husband, Kenn Kaufman, an internationally known birder, BSBO member, and author-illustrator of some of North America’s best-known field guides, said the project would set a bad precedent.
“If you were looking for the worst place for wind development, that place would be right up there. It’s really hard to imagine a worse place,” he said. “Obviously, we’re going to fight it.”
Ms. Beougher said in her statement the Ohio Air National Guard strives “to be community partners” and takes that role seriously.
“We appreciate the feedback from the local community and are committed to ensuring they are properly heard and considered in this process,” her statement read.
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.
Birders fear poorly placed wind turbines will put species as common as ducks and geese at risk, as well as rare and endangered migratory songbirds, such as the Kirtland’s warbler.
The National Guard stated in a Jan. 28, 2014 letter it was suspending the project, but left open the possibility of someday rejuvenating it.
That letter came weeks after the American Bird Conservancy and the Black Swamp Bird Conservancy filed its first notice of intent to sue in 2014, asserting laws written to protect many birds, including endangered species, had not been followed.
Northwest Ohio receives about $37 million in eco tourism from an estimated 75,000 visitors during the peak migration months of April and May.