Bird Conservationists to Testify Against “Icebreaker” Wind Energy Project in Lake Erie

Contact: Black Swamp Bird Observatory: Kimberly Kaufman, Executive Director, 419-898-4070

Bald Eagles may be at risk from the Icebreaker wind energy project on Lake Erie.

One of the highest concentrations of nesting Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states, along with many other bird species, could be at risk from Lake Erie's first proposed offshore wind energy project. Photo by rbrown10/Shutterstock

(Cleveland, Ohio, July 18, 2018) Bird conservation groups will be raising concerns about the impact on birds from Lake Erie's first proposed offshore wind project, “Icebreaker,” tomorrow at a public hearing before the Cleveland City Council. Black Swamp Bird Observatory and American Bird Conservancy found numerous problems with the project's environmental assessment (EA); the inadequacy of the EA's science and process will be the basis for the joint testimony to be submitted by BSBO's Don Bauman and Mark Shieldcastle.

“We reject the EA's claim that this wind energy facility would have ‘little to no impact'” on birds, said Kimberly Kaufman, Black Swamp Bird Observatory's Executive Director, citing the critical importance of Lake Erie to migratory birds such as the endangered Kirtland's Warbler.

Five recent advanced radar studies conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have recorded vast numbers of migratory birds and bats within 5 to 10 miles of the Great Lakes shorelines, including Lake Erie. Many were flying within the rotor-swept area of wind turbines.

“The six-turbine Icebreaker project poses a larger threat to wildlife than is now indicated in the documents,” said Kaufman. “But the planned expansion of offshore wind energy to over 1,000 turbines will have even more major impacts to birds that breed and migrate across Lake Erie, and that must be addressed.”

The organizations highlighted five major concerns about the EA in their comments, which were submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Energy:

  1. The proposed Icebreaker project site is approximately 7 miles from the Lake Erie shoreline, near Cleveland, Ohio. This is a Globally Important Bird Area (IBA): The Ohio waters of the Central Basin of Lake Erie have been registered with BirdLife International and the National Audubon Society as globally significant habitat for birds.
  2. The assessment cites outdated studies and ignores new data from birds fitted with radio transmitters, dismissing any threat to the endangered Kirtland's Warbler. These data show that the species uses the airspace of central Lake Erie almost exclusively for its fall migration. The site selected for the Icebreaker project turbines could put the entire global population of this rare species at risk just as it's been proposed for delisting from the Endangered Species Act.
  3. To reach the “little to no impact” conclusion, the assessors relied on limited visual surveys conducted only during daytime and in good weather to conclude that migrating birds fly at a height sufficient to avoid the turbines' blades. However, many songbirds migrate at night. The risk they face from turbines is likely greater during conditions of high winds, heavy rain, fog, or low cloud cover, which can affect flight altitude and bring them within the rotor-swept area of the turbines.
  4. The assessment erroneously concludes that migratory birds avoid crossing Lake Erie and instead fly around it. Studies show with certainty that given good conditions, large numbers of migratory birds cross the lake, many of them making the long journey after stopping at the shoreline to rest and feed. Bird Studies Canada's tracking of radio-tagged individuals clearly shows birds and bats crossing Lake Erie.
  5. The EA fails to acknowledge similar existing or planned projects throughout the Great Lakes that could increase the cumulative impacts on birds — an evaluation required by the National Environmental Policy Act. Moreover, project developer LEEDCo has publicly acknowledged their goal to install more than 1,000 turbines in Lake Erie. This will set an important precedent for further Great Lakes wind development. Ontario, for instance, has placed a moratorium on any open water wind facilities in Lake Erie until Icebreaker is decided.

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Black Swamp Bird Observatory is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit whose mission is to inspire the appreciation, enjoyment, and conservation of birds and their habitats through research, education, and outreach.

American Bird Conservancy is dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats and build capacity for bird conservation.

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