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Birding Organizations File Lawsuit To Stop Proposed Lake Erie Wind Farm

The lawsuit argues wind turbines pose a threat to bird populations that live in and fly through the region. [tuthelens / shutterstock]
A closeup on a wind turbine's propeller

A proposed wind energy project off the coast of Lake Erie is facing a lawsuit from two birding organizations. The groups allege not enough research has been done to determine the project’s environmental impact.

The suit, filed by Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) in Ohio and the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) based in Washington, D.C., against the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Army Corps of Engineers, argues the DOE “shirked its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act,” along with the Clean Water Act and other environmental regulations.

The proposed wind farm, called the Icebreaker Project, would place six wind turbines on Lake Erie. It’s classified as demonstrative and could lead to further turbine construction. The birding agencies argue that the turbines would pose a threat to bird populations that live in and migrate through the area year-round, and the DOE did not undergo enough research to determine that impact.

“We feel like it’s just about to cross the finish line, and this project really needs to do its homework to get it right,” said Joel Merriman, the Bird-Smart Wind Energy campaign director for ABC.

The DOE issued an Environmental Assessment for the project rather than an Environmental Impact Study, which is a more rigorous process. As a result, Merriman said, the research was limited in scope.

 “If you’re just doing surveys in the daytime in good weather, that’s really all you’re learning about, is in the daytime and good weather,” Merriman said.

The suit argues Lake Erie is globally recognized as an important habitat for maintaining bird populations, and the research does not take that into account. The research also doesn’t account for any growth that could happen after the initial six turbines, Merriman said.

“Six turbines will have a certain amount of impact, but then if you’ve got hundreds or more than a thousand turbines, that’s going to make a much, much bigger difference,” Merriman said.

Merriman said his organization supports wind energy and turbine use, but not every project. Research is required to determine the right place, size and number of turbines, he said.

The lawsuit also calls for a more comprehensive analysis of alternatives to the Icebreaker Project, including consideration of other locations for the turbines, requiring bladeless turbines or developing post-construction monitoring and management.

No alternatives were considered, Merriman said.

“The two alternatives that were considered were the project and no action, which, needless to say, is not an alternatives analysis,” he said.

The Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation, or LEEDCo, would build and install the turbines. LEEDCo emailed a statement to ideastream saying surveys of the area “consistently demonstrated very low bird activity” in the area of the proposed turbines. A recommendation for an Environmental Impact Study was then dropped.

“We believe the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have fully and faithfully carried out their obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act to evaluate the impact of the project on all aspects of the environment,” the statement said.

LEEDCo argues the impact statement is not warranted and would only add expenses and delays to the proposed wind farm.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Energy says the DOE does not comment on pending litigation. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not respond to requests for comment.