EGLE denies permit for wind turbine project
HOUGHTON — Permits for the proposed wind turbine project in Adams and Stanton townships have been denied by the state over concerns of harm to wildlife, including bat and eagle populations, and wetlands.
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) Water Resources Division (WRD) determined the Scotia Wind project did not benefit the public enough to outweigh potential impact to wildlife and wetlands at the site.
“Due to the applicant’s lack of a feasible and prudent alternative analysis regarding impacts to wildlife, the impacts to Michigan’s natural resources and wildlife from the proposed project, in accordance with EGLE’s memorandum of agreement with the EPA, and in consideration of all material provided by the applicant, EPA, FWS and MDNR, EGLE WRD must deny the proposed development activities associated with the planned Scotia Wind Farm,” WRD wrote in a memo.
The project, proposed by Royal Oak, Michigan-based Circle Power, would include 12,575-foot turbines — four in Adams Township, eight in Stanton Township.
Circle Power has 60 days to file an appeal, and also has the option of filing a revised plan. Circle Power partner Chris Moore could not be reached for comment Monday.
Charles Markham, president of Guardians of the Keweenaw Ridge, a citizens’ group formed in opposition to the project, said the denial was “huge,” but said the group would stay vigilant. He noted Circle Power had also looked at alternate sites at Gratiot Lake and Toivola before pursuing the current site.
“I think we won the battle and we didn’t win the war yet,” he said. “I’m really apprehensive about saying that it’s over, because I don’t think it is. I don’t think they’re going to give up that easily.”
The proposed project also included 2.7 miles of road enhancements, 7.7 miles of new road construction, 4.6 acres of land clearance for the substations, and 6.7 acres for the laydown yard, the WRD said. About 6 acres of area would also be cleared around each turbine. Two culverts would be installed to regulate stream flow, and 0.038 acres of wetland would be filled in.
The project would have negative impacts on both wildlife and the state’s natural resources, the WRD found.
Under part 301 of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA), the WRD is required to consider how the project might affect inland lakes or streams any uses of those waters, including by fish or wildlife. The turbines could adversely impact bald eagle and northern long-eared bat, a federally threatened species, according to correspondence from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The species have migratory routes with a high likelihood of crossing the turbine area, the agencies found. White-nose syndrome has caused a significant decline in bat populations. Prior to that, there were more than 3,500 bats at the Quincy Mine, about six miles away, the DNR Wildlife Division Chief Jared Duquette wrote in a letter to the EPA. Most were little brown bats; more than 300 were northern long-eared bats.
Within the little brown bat’s migratory range — about 62 miles — there are 48 known sites where bats hibernate, which included 140,000 bats before white-nose syndrome, Duquette said. “An additional concern for bat populations near the project area is that the openings in the forest for turbine placement, the turbine pad footprint, can be an attractive edge for bats to forage and increase the risk of colliding with turbines,” Duquette wrote in the July 12 letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Since this proposed project is located on a peninsula it creates a greater risk for migrating bats compared to other areas where bats can disperse and migrate in all cardinal directions.”
A bat conservation strategy prepared by Pittsburgh-based Civil & Environmental Consultants for the Scotia Wind project in June estimated there are currently nine northern long-eared bats and 303 little brown bats across the six closest hibernacula, based on mortality estimates from white-nose syndrome.
The proposed site is listed as one of the conservation strategies due to its location, seven miles away from Lake Superior, and the plant life on the sites, dominated by maple trees, which “is unlikely to provide much habitat or foraging opportunities,” C&EC wrote. Other measures included freestanding towers with no wires to reduce potential collisions, and installing bat gates at at least one potential hibernaculum.
Scotia Wind also proposed a bat migration study in conjunction with DNR and USFWS biologists.
To issue a permit the WRD would have to find minimal adverse impacts to the environment, and that there is “no feasible and prudent alternative,” under part 303 of the NREPA. Circle Power did not provide the WRD or other agencies with consideration of other potential sites to reduce impacts, the WRD said.
“The WRD believes that feasible and prudent alternatives exist that would lessen or eliminate the anticipated negative impacts of the project as proposed,” Hunter King of the Marquette office of the WRD wrote in the decision, issued Friday. “As an alternative, we suggest that you site the wind development in an area that does not impact fish and wildlife, including federally threatened species.”
WRD also found the loss of wetlands could deprive residents of benefits, such as wildlife habitat and breeding or nesting grounds for rare, threatened or endangered species.
The DNR recommended Circle Power work with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the DNR to develop a plan that would significantly reduce bat mortalities at the site.