Recipe for disaster: a Bald Eagle, wind turbines and an incredibly incurious press.

Whenever I’m away for a bit, I often find it difficult choosing a topic to help me get back into the swing of things.  This time however, thanks to the sharp eye and superb photography of Ms. Jamie Riggleman, the choice was obvious.

Regular readers know I try to focus on items which are ignored by our local papers.  And, while the Mineral County (WV) News Tribune did carry one of Ms. Riggleman’s photos in a May 3 article, “‘That’s my fish!’ T-ball players get surprise during game,” it seemed to me a larger point was missed by the paper – the impact the planned Pinnacle Wind farm will have on Bald Eagles.

First, let’s have a peek at Ms. Riggleman’s excellent photographs, which were taken a week or so ago at Keyser’s (West Virginia) South End sports complex, some 2.3 miles from the Pinnacle wind project.  I included three simulated views of the turbines which the Bald Eagle might see from the sports complex, if looking toward the Allegheny Front which they are known to soar above.  More detail about these simulation photos below:

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The three visual stimulation “photos” which I added to Ms. Riggleman’s slides above and detailed below, are offered for public view by the Pinnacle project developer, US WindForce.

This view superimposes turbines on a photograph taken from the area where Ms. Riggleman’s Bald Eagle was … well … fishing:

Pinnacle Photosimulations

This simulation utilizes Google Earth for the visual from the same position:

Pinnacle Photosimulation

Now, for any of you folks from the local area wondering how it is that the size of the “simulated” Pinnacle turbines from 2.5 miles away appear to be similar in size to those in actual view from the Mt. Storm project when seen some 12 miles away from Keyser … well, we wonder the same thing.  Remember that these turbines will be some 450 ft. tall.  We have a feeling that the simulated photos just don’t do justice to the proportion of items in the distance.  Case in point, the real McDonald’s sign looks a lot larger than the photo arches when you’re actually at the sports complex.  Plus, the Pinnacle tower, which is visible from this location even though it is much smaller than the turbines, cannot be seen.

Anyway, in order to show you a better “view” of the proposed turbines against a slightly darker sky, we slid over to the simulation offered near Bogg’s Supply, just down the road from Ms. Riggleman’s Bald Eagle sighting and a similar 2.5 miles away from the turbines.  Here’s that “view” utilizing Google Earth.

Pinnacle Photosimulation

So, why do I have my shorts all in a knot, anyway?

Well, it bothers me that the developer seems to have no interest in the fact that Bald Eagles are in close proximity to the turbines.  The WV Department of Natural Resources and the US Fish and Wildlife Service have both expressed concerns about the Pinnacle project’s impact on wildlife, however US WindForce appears to have no interest in their concerns.  Reportedly, during the January 2011 Community Advisory Meeting, David Friend was asked if Edison Mission or US Wind Force, LLC will secure an Incidental Take Permit for the Pinnacle Project. Word has it that Mr. Friend’s response was NO, because, presumably, he doesn’t think an incidental take permit under the Endangered Species Act is required or necessary.

This is, in my humble opinion, a risky and, quite frankly, cavalier position for the developer to take in this matter, since a representative of the USFWS told a gathering recently that “even though our guidelines are currently voluntary, and even if the final guidelines become voluntary too, there’s still this whole issue that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act aren’t wishy-washy – those are laws,” and that, “If take occurs and you do not have a permit for take, including disturbance, you’re in criminal liability and potential criminal culpability.”

If I was sitting in the home office of Edison Mission I’d be asking a question or two of Mr. Friend.  After all, it is Edison’s money and reputation on the line.  Of course, that assumes Edison Mission actually cares.

But don’t you really wonder why the folks at the News Tribune, when publishing the Bald Eagle photo story, didn’t pick up on the fact that wind turbines, which are known threats to Eagles, are so close to the flight path of this beautiful bird?  It doesn’t seem to me a Pulitzer is required to connect the dots between this Bald Eagle and the meat grinder just 2.3 miles away!  Is the local press really that incredibly incurious, or is this simply another yard of fabric stitched to the long red carpet which has been laid before the wind developer from the beginning?

I don’t know … but I do know this.  If you happen to be the unlucky soul who finds and keeps a feather from Ms. Riggleman’s Bald Eagle after it meets the blade of this under-performing, heavily subsidized row of ridge topping propellers, you’ll be fined or perhaps even end up in the clink.

You see, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 668-668c), enacted in 1940, and amended several times since then, prohibits anyone, without a permit issued by the Secretary of the Interior, from “taking” bald eagles, including their parts, nests, or eggs. The Act provides criminal penalties for persons who “take, possess, sell, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import, at any time or any manner, any bald eagle … [or any golden eagle], alive or dead, or any part, nest, or egg thereof.” The Act defines “take” as “pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb.”

For purposes of these guidelines, “disturb” means: “to agitate or bother a bald or golden eagle to a degree that causes, or is likely to cause, based on the best scientific information available, 1) injury to an eagle, 2) a decrease in its productivity, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior, or 3) nest abandonment, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior.”

In addition to immediate impacts, this definition also covers impacts that result from human-induced alterations initiated around a previously used nest site during a time when eagles are not present, if, upon the eagle’s return, such alterations agitate or bother an eagle to a degree that interferes with or interrupts normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering habits, and causes injury, death or nest abandonment.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but I have to believe that carving out acres of ridgeline and placing 23-747 size propellers in the flight path of these birds is a little more serious than sticking a feather in your pocket.

And what happens if the act is violated?  A violation of the Act can result in a fine of $100,000 ($200,000 for organizations), imprisonment for one year, or both, for a first offense. Penalties increase substantially for additional offenses, and a second violation of this Act is a felony.

(A copy of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act is available at: http://permits.fws.gov/ltr/ltr.shtml.)

Bottom line:  “Anyone who possesses an eagle feather, and doesn’t meet the requirements, could face fines up to $100,000 and a year in prison. A second offense is upgraded from a misdemeanor to a felony, and carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The act also provides for a civil penalty of up to $5,000.”

AND THAT’S JUST FOR KEEPING A FEATHER FOLKS!

Now you might see why I feel Ms. Riggleman’s photo’s are so extremely important.  I just wish our local news folks saw more in her photos than an opportunity for a catchy little article and actually asked the hard questions of US WindForce.

Well, one could always hope!

AT Note:  We thank Ms. Riggleman for her generosity in sharing the beautiful photographs she took of this noble bird.

This entry was posted in Allegheny Mountains, Bat/Bird Kills, Eagles, Endangered Species Act, Pinnacle Wind Farm, US Fish &Wildlife, US WindForce and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Recipe for disaster: a Bald Eagle, wind turbines and an incredibly incurious press.

  1. John Terry says:

    Those are indeed, beautiful eagle photographs. Not only did Mrs. Riggelman have a camera with a good lens in her capable hands, but she had the instinct to compose and shoot this once in a lifetime event.
    Regarding the viewshed simulations provided by US Windforce/Edison Mission. It seems to be the case that wind turbine developers routinely submit misleading photo simulations. In Randolph and Barbour Counties, the developers of the AES Laurel Mountain wind project also submitted photo simulations of their proposed project showing, among other things that the turbines would barely be visible or would be hardly noticeable in the towns of Belington and Elkins, including the historic court house in Elkins.
    Today, AES’s project is nearly completed and to the surprise of many who supported it, the AES Laurel Mountain project now dominates the Belington and Elkins skylines, completely altering the rural nature of both communities. The wind turbines are the first things you see when approaching Elkins on Corridor H from the West, Route 219 from the north and Route 33 from the east. Strangely, the wind turbines, now set in their final resting places and at their full heights, do not resemble the AES Laurel Mountain simulations. Oops! Their bad.

  2. Allegheny Front Alliance says:

    Arrogant Behavior—you decide….

    In a letter, dated Sept 30, 2008, the West Virginia field Office US FWS submitted a letter to US Wind Force wildlife consultants, (Paul Kerlinger and Mike Sponsler) expressing concerns for the Pinnacle Wind Project. This twenty-page document outlines concerns related to 1) habitat characterization and assessment, 2) avian risk assessment (night migrating bats, eagles) 3) migratory bird concerns, 4) bat risk assessment, and 5) fourteen pre-construction and post construction recommendations.

    Summary highlights of the letter by the Deborah Carter, Field Supervisor are:
    • “We also are concerned about the risk of collision mortality to golden and bald eagles using air space over the proposed Pinnacle wind power project.”
    • “Considering that bald and golden eagle numbers are increasing, we believe the site poses a high risk of mortality to eagles over the anticipated long operational life of the project (20+ years).
    • “For a number of reasons, we believe the risk to migratory birds (including raptors) is higher than indicated in the Pinnacle Risk Assessment.”
    • “Furthermore, we are concerned about the cumulative impact of wind power projects in the Allegheny Front.”
    • “We therefore believe the risk to migrating birds from the proposed Pinnacle project is higher than indicated in the Risk Assessment because: (1) the proposed project is located in a major migration pathway. (2) Mortality rates at wind power sites tend to be higher long forested ridgelines, (3) a number of projects are planned or operating in the Allegheny Front.”

    AFA obtained the USFWS letter using a FOIA request. The letter was introduced during October 26-27 2009 hearing. What follows is WV PSC order, (Commission Order Granting a Sitting Certificate for a Wholesale Electric Generating Facility, Related Transmission Support Line and Associated Interconnection Facilities on Green Mountain in Mineral County) dated January 11, 2010 and how the WV PSC and US Wind Froce treated the document.

    • “AFA also suggested that Pinnacle shielded, from the Commission, a September 30, 2009 letter from the USFWS regarding the Project. Initial Brief pp. 9-1 1”
    • “Pinnacle responded that this suggestion was wholly without merit and that Pinnacle correctly assumed that AFA would introduce the USFWS Letter at the evidentiary hearing. Reply Brief pp. AFA Ex. 6 (Oct. 26, 2009). Pinnacle asserted that had the USFWS believed that the letter was crucial to the Commission’s decision. USFWS could have copied the Commission when the letter was sent to Pinnacle.”
    • “Pinnacle further argued that the USFWS letter is not unique to this Project and it is common for USFWS to criticize aspects of developer study efforts, to ask for more pre-and post-construction studies, and to magnify the possibility, however remote, of an unauthorized take. Initial Brief”
    • “These USFWS actions, however, do not mean that the Project should not be built or that Pinnacle is obligated to conduct more studies or apply for an incidental take permit.”
    • “Despite the USFWS normal recommendation that three years of pre-construction study be undertaken, the Pinnacle witness testified that he could not recall any projects in which three years of such study had been conducted. Tr. p. 154 (Kerlinger) (Oct. 26, 2009).”
    • “Moreover, Pinnacle asserted that when USFWS wants to signal its opposition to a project, it knows how to do so, as it did in Liberty Gap.”

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