Battle for Lake Erie Reaches New Peak

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It was September 10, 1813, when Commodore Oliver Hazzard Perry led his nine American ships to defeat the British in the famous Battle of Lake Erie.

This week, the call is out once again to “man your battle stations” in an all-out war to save the future of this lake.

In anticipation of a rehearing by the Ohio Power Siting Board of a permit to construct wind turbines in Lake Erie, the fire power from those opposed to the blatant industrialization of this great natural resource has reached its highest level.

Slated to convene on Thursday, the OPSB will review permit conditions previously approved by the Board last May for building the Icebreaker Wind project off Cleveland’s lakefront by the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation.

According to LEEDCo, a condition requiring shutdown of the turbines at night from March to November to prevent the wholesale slaughter of thousands of valuable and protected migrating birds and bats is a “poison pill” for the project, making it unfeasible to finance.

Lake Erie is an internationally recognized flyway but LEEDCo will be asking for the condition to be rescinded.

Meanwhile, groups like the Boating Associations of Ohio, Michigan Boating Industry Association, Lake Erie Foundation and many conservationists, environmentalists, boaters, fishermen, lakefront property owners and tourism businesses cheered the OPSB’s conditions, saying the question of financing is a business decision — not a problem to be solved at the expense of Ohio’s most cherished natural resource.

“Icebreaker is an eco-nightmare,” says Michelle Burke, BAO’s executive director, “and shouldn’t happen at all. LEEDCo has totally failed to demonstrate that the benefit of industrializing our lake with turbines outweighs the immense ecological and environmental costs. So, if the shutdown condition stops it, a good future for the lake for generations to come remains.”

BAO, with funding help from MBIA and others, is running a barrage of radio spots around the state urging people to go to a website to say no to the turbines.

“The developers have really misled the public,” Burke contends. “They claim, for example, Icebreaker is only six turbines, but LEEDCo’s president is on record saying they expect up to 1,600 more turbines to follow. They also claim it will lead to hundreds of jobs, but LEEDCo’s own consultant reports Icebreaker will provide less than 10!”

Nicki Polan, MBIA’s executive director, has also been outspoken about the Ohio proposal.

“Not only does Michigan share western Lake Erie with Ohio,” explains Polan, “but our state borders 4 of the 5 Great Lakes. We see the likelihood that Icebreaker will lead to similar industrialization of the other lakes, all of which are fragile interrelated eco-systems and, therefore, need to be held to the highest environmental standards.”

Another major issue that has been ducked by the developers is the threat to the drinking water supply. Lake Erie is the source for millions of Ohioans. But the lake bottom sediment off Cleveland contains nearly 100 years of carcinogen-laced materials dredged annually from the highly industrialized Cuyahoga River and open-lake dumped off Cleveland. While that practice is no longer allowed, the construction of the wind turbines and the miles of transmission cables seem certain the unleash those chemicals.

The focus of Thursday’s rehearing will be the shutdown — appropriately called feathering — condition handed out by the OPSB. It’s a fact that many species of birds and bats that migrate through the Lake Erie flyway consume insects to the benefit of humans. Moreover, it’s believed during the migration season the lake will become riddled with dead bird carcasses impacting boaters and anglers while also washing up on area beaches.

What has never been undertaken in all this is a full Environmental Impact Statement, considered the gold standard under federal law to assess all the risks and ramifications for projects like this.

Sadly, that should have been ordered by a federal agency. Instead, in an apparent rush to dish out federal funds to proposed renewable energy projects, a weaker, far less encompassing Environmental Assessment, composed by a LEEDCo consultant paid to favor Icebreaker, was allowed.

Finally, BAO and the others also emphasize that Province of Ontario, Canada, which owns the north half of Lake Erie, implemented a 10-year moratorium preventing construction of any wind turbines in the lake, citing both environmental dangers and economic shortcomings.

If LEEDCo builds any turbines, they will be the first ever built in fresh water. And the fact that LEEDCo has avoided doing a full Environmental Impact Statement on Icebreaker as prescribed in federal law is even more reason to recognize the need for critical safeguards. 


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