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Ohio Turbine Battle Heads to Supreme Court

While waiting for the Ohio Supreme Court to rule on whether to allow the proposed construction of wind turbines in Lake Erie, marine dealers, boaters and anglers continue to vocally oppose such industrialization of the lake. Nowhere was objection more evident than on the floor of the recent Cleveland Boat Show in exhibits ranging from the Lake Erie Foundation to the display from On the Water Ohio.

The project is being challenged in the Ohio Supreme Court by two Cleveland lakefront residents who believe the giant 300-plus-foot spinning blades pose too great a risk to migrating birds, in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty. They, like other opponents, also point to the fact that Icebreaker received approval from the federal agencies, particularly the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, without an environmental impact statement, which is required of every offshore turbine proposal along the East Coast.

“Clearly the BOEM and other federal agencies failed to observe the uniqueness of Lake Erie,” says Michelle Burke, president of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association. “BOEM has closed its eyes to the Great Lakes. In contrast, our Canadian neighbors recognize the critical environmental makeup of the lakes and have a moratorium against building any turbines in their portions of the Great Lakes.”

The developer, Lake Erie Energy Development Corp., proposes building the first wind turbines in fresh water in North America directly off Cleveland. Dubbed “Icebreaker Wind,” LEEDCo’s stated intent is to stimulate the eventual construction of up to 1,600 turbines covering hundreds of square miles in the lake. But it’s believed there are many unknown and unaddressed environmental issues that can only be determined by a full environmental impact statement.

Aside from pending court action, LEEDCo, which has been touting the Icebreaker project for more than 10 years, also faces serious money issues. Late last year, LEEDCo had asked the state legislature to approve a surcharge on the electric bills of all FirstEnergy customers in northeast Ohio to cover much of the cost. The legislature declined.

“Our organization is not opposed to renewable energy,” says Jim Stouffer, Lake Erie Foundation president, “but we are absolutely against turning Lake Erie, which is Ohio’s most precious natural resource, into a turbine farm. Ohioans have invested 50 years and much treasure to turn our once maligned lake into the wonderful, clean boating, fishing and tourist draw it is today. We’re fighting to protect it now and for future generations.”

Before the Supreme Court last December, lawyers argued that the project was approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board without properly determining that impact, especially to migrating birds and bats.

“There is not one person in this court room, or anywhere for that matter, that can tell you how many birds and bats fly through the rotor-swept zone at the project site,” argued attorney Mark Tucker. “No one can deny this fact: There has been no collection of that data at the proposed project site.”

During earlier consideration of the migrating birds’ issue, the Ohio Power Siting Board approved a conditional permit to build the turbines by including a requirement they be shut down at night from March through November to avoid slaughtering birds and bats. Ignoring strenuous objections from many quarters, the board removed that condition upon an appeal from LEEDCo.

“When people learn more about the environmental risks to our lake that supplies drinking water to millions of residents,” says Burke, “they are either shocked or emboldened to say no way to Icebreaker. The turbines would be visible from shore, denigrating the beautiful lake views while killing millions of migratory birds that we could be dodging with our boats or see washed up on our beaches. “The vibrations and noise,” she continued, “may negatively affect our walleye and perch fishing, thus diminishing the lake’s $1 billion sportfishing industry, as well as our multibillion-dollar tourism and recreational boating. And Icebreaker’s power will be purchased by local taxpayers at higher than current rates.” Overall, the opponents are trusting the Supreme Court will put a halt to this potential debacle, but either way they will not be deterred from their fight to protect the lake and the lifestyle it gives to Ohioans. While there is no set timetable, the Supreme Court’s decision could come any day.

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