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Audubon review supports wind farm - Threat to birds is less than feared, group finds

The Massachusetts Audubon Society gave its preliminary blessing yesterday to a large-scale wind power project off Cape Cod, saying its studies show that turbine blades are not likely to cause significant harm to birds, as the group had once feared.......But the group said its final decision will hinge on additional research of several bird species.

Support from the environmental group, one of the most respected in the state, is important because the threat to birds has emerged as a controversial aspect of the five-year-old proposal to turn stiff sea breezes into a source of electricity.

The group had previously raised questions about potential bird deaths, but Jack Clarke, advocacy director of Mass Audubon, said extensive studies it conducted in the last four years showed that endangered roseate terns and piping plovers, the group's main concerns, and other sensitive species generally avoid the 24-square-mile footprint of the proposed wind farm in Nantucket Sound.

''Our preliminary conclusion is that the project would not pose a threat to avian species," he said.

The most significant hurdle for the project, which would be the nation's first offshore wind farm, is an ongoing federal environmental review, and Mass Audubon's preliminary stance is likely to be helpful. But the group said its final decision will hinge on additional research of several bird species.

Mass Audubon officials said they want the government and Cape Wind Associates, the project's developer, to study the flight paths of birds for one... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Support from the environmental group, one of the most respected in the state, is important because the threat to birds has emerged as a controversial aspect of the five-year-old proposal to turn stiff sea breezes into a source of electricity.
 
The group had previously raised questions about potential bird deaths, but Jack Clarke, advocacy director of Mass Audubon, said extensive studies it conducted in the last four years showed that endangered roseate terns and piping plovers, the group's main concerns, and other sensitive species generally avoid the 24-square-mile footprint of the proposed wind farm in Nantucket Sound.
 
''Our preliminary conclusion is that the project would not pose a threat to avian species," he said.
 
The most significant hurdle for the project, which would be the nation's first offshore wind farm, is an ongoing federal environmental review, and Mass Audubon's preliminary stance is likely to be helpful. But the group said its final decision will hinge on additional research of several bird species.
 
Mass Audubon officials said they want the government and Cape Wind Associates, the project's developer, to study the flight paths of birds for one more spring and summer season and at night, to be absolutely sure the whirring blades of the wind farm's 130 turbines would not kill too many sea ducks, migratory birds, terns, and plovers. They also said that one more winter study of sea ducks might be necessary.
 
''We want to get this right," Clarke said. ''This is a big step for the US."
 
Clarke said Mass Audubon was issuing a challenge to Cape Wind, state, and federal officials to accept ''comprehensive and rigorous monitoring to reduce the risk to birds and other wildlife."
 
The federal Minerals Management Service said yesterday that its biologists, with the help of state and federal officials and groups such as Audubon, have identified ''data gaps" in duck, tern, plover, and other bird research and are undertaking further studies. Most should be completed by the end of the summer.
 
The service, the federal agency overseeing the environmental review of the project, said the draft review will now be delayed at least four months, until September, to complete the studies and give the agency time to carefully develop rules for the wind farm. That means that a final environmental decision on the project is unlikely to come before mid-2007.
 
A draft environmental review that was generally favorable to the project was issued last year by the Army Corps of Engineers, but then Congress transferred authority over the project to the Minerals Management Service. That agency has a broader mandate and said it would expand on the Army Corps' 4,000-page review, which dealt primarily with environmental impact during construction.
 
Two other federal agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Fish & Wildlife Service, have also called for more rigorous bird studies, some even more detailed than Mass Audubon has called for. Officials of those agencies declined to comment yesterday.
 
If the additional bird studies continue to show no major problems, the wind project's last remaining significant obstacle may be opposition by influential members of Congress. Representative Don Young of Alaska, the Republican chairman of the House Transportation Committee, is trying to add an amendment to a Coast Guard authorization bill that would effectively kill the Nantucket Sound proposal by prohibiting wind farms within 1 1/2 nautical miles of a shipping channel or ferry route. Governor Mitt Romney and Senator Edward M. Kennedy also oppose the project.
 
Environmental groups have struggled with their positions on Cape Wind and land-based wind farms proposed in New England.
 
The installations are seen as a partial antidote to the nation's reliance on fossil fuel. The Cape Wind project would produce the equivalent of about 75 percent of the electricity now consumed on Cape Cod and the Islands.
 
But some nearby residents are worried that scenic vistas will be ruined and that property values will be reduced. Environmentalists are also concerned about potential harm to marine species from construction of the wind farm and the underwater foundations of the turbine towers. Opponents also have pointed out that some wind farms on land are on the flyways of birds or bats and have caused their death.
 
Mass Audubon officials acknowledged yesterday the difficulty in coming to a decision, saying that the wind farm would probably cause some bird deaths, but that any energy project would do so. That harm, they said, was outweighed by the need for renewable energy sources to slow carbon dioxide emissions from power plants that most climate scientists believe are a major contributor to a warming earth.
 
The nonprofit group's officials gave no figure on how many bird deaths would be acceptable for the proposed wind project, but said if they received new information that indicated deaths would be ''ecologically significant," they would reconsider their support.
 
Mass Audubon also called for monitoring the impact on birds during the energy facility's construction and early years of operation. It also urged that Cape Wind agree to pay for any harm to bird species by creating bird habitats in and around Nantucket Sound. And the group called for Cape Wind to pay the government for use of public waterways and for federal and state agencies to develop procedures to dismantle the facility if it ever ceases operation.
 
Rodney Cluck, Cape Wind project director for the Minerals Management Service, said yesterday that the bird studies Audubon called for are in the works or soon will be. His agency has already spent $54,000 to study sea ducks. Next month, Cape Wind is commissioning a study on migratory birds. And in the summer, the federal agency will study roseate terns and piping plovers.
 
''By the time next fall rolls around, we should have a good credible draft [environmental] review," Cluck said.


Source: http://www.boston.com/news/...

MAR 29 2006
https://www.windaction.org/posts/1914-audubon-review-supports-wind-farm-threat-to-birds-is-less-than-feared-group-finds
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