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Two bird conservation groups have again teamed up to target another proposed wind project, this time setting their sights on Lake Erie Energy Development Corp.'s (LEEDCo) Icebreaker offshore demonstration wind farm.

In a letter to Ohio Power Siting Board Chair Thomas Johnson, the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) voiced concerns about the 18 MW offshore project and called for a comprehensive review process to protect the region's birds.

The groups consider Icebreaker, planned in Lake Erie, to pose a major risk to wildlife, including the federally endangered Kirtland's Warbler, Piping Plover, bald eagles and waterfowl. ABC also claims Ohio is among "the worst possible locations for a wind power project."

In the letter to Johnson, the groups said, “[T]he south shore of Lake Erie is a major migration bottleneck for neotropical migrants flying north from Central and South America to breed in the boreal forests of Canada.”

“Bird movements in such areas, especially during adverse weather events, are more volatile and hence less predictable than they are on nesting or wintering grounds,” the letter continued. “As a result, there is a high likelihood of major mortality events involving federally protected birds associated with wind turbines in this area.”

Last year, however, developer LEEDCo released a report determining that its Icebreaker project will have no biologically significant impact on the birds and bats that frequent the Lake Erie region.

"The weight of evidence gathered from studies conducted over many years is quite conclusive," said Dr. Paul Kerlinger, a wildlife expert who authored the report. "Biologically significant impacts to any bird or bat species, including those that are endangered and threatened, are highly unlikely."

In addition, LEEDCo recently noted support from several other environmental groups, including The Ohio Environmental Council, Environment Ohio, The Sierra Club, Mom's Clean Air Force, Ohio Interfaith Power & Light, and Earth Day Coalition.

This is not the first time ABC and BSBO have voiced their concerns about a wind project. Earlier this year, the groups successfully halted plans for a “poorly sited,” single-turbine project after threatening to sue the Ohio National Guard and collecting thousands of signatures.

Michael Hutchins, national coordinator of ABC’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign, claims the two groups support wind development, but only if it is environmentally responsible. Following the National Guard’s decision to shelve its project, the groups now seem determined to shift their focus to the Icebreaker project.

“ABC and BSBO will be monitoring the situation closely and expect that all federal and state wildlife laws intended to protect our public trust resources will be followed to the letter,” the groups wrote. However, the groups did not indicate plans for any further actions.

Specifically, ABC and BSBO have called for LEEDCo to complete a thorough environmental impact assessment and file for incidental take permits under federal bird protection laws, “at the very least.”

LEEDCo, a nonprofit whose Icebreaker project is backed by a federal grant, maintains that it has been working diligently with regulators for years to ensure the project minimizes risks to wildlife.

LEEDCo spokesperson Eric Ritter notes that agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service even helped the developer pick the project’s location and size. In addition, LEEDCo teamed up with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to measure avian activity at the site and work on ways to mitigate impacts. In October 2013, Kerlinger completed his aforementioned avian risk assessment.

“All of this information was compiled into our environmental assessment, which we recently submitted along with permit applications to a number of state and federal regulatory agencies,” explains Ritter. “Because this is a first-of-a-kind endeavor, each of these agencies will be thoroughly assessing the merits of the project and the science behind our environmental assessments.”

“This process will take some time, and those who have concerns about potential impacts on wildlife should be reassured by this rigorous and independent process,” he adds.

Photo: A Kirtland’s Warbler, which ABC and BSBO argue could be impacted by the Icebreaker project. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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