The Canadian Peregrine Foundation

Wind turbines could threaten eagle's nest
Saturday, February 25, 2006
By John-Paul Zronik
From The Brantford Expositor

Norfolk residents are sounding alarm bells over the future of a bald eagle’s nest threatened by a wind power generation project.

“Wind farming is good, but we’ve got to think seriously about where we place these towers,” said Mark Nash, president of the Canadian Peregrine Foundation. “It’s become apparent that there are some serious ramifications for the environment, particularly for endangered species.”

The towers Nash refers to are power generating wind turbines being installed along Lake Erie by AIM PowerGen Corporation. Sixty-six turbines, measuring almost 300-feet tall, are being erected as part of a $185-million wind farm project that will generate enough electricity to power 30,000 homes.

Nash said he’s received more than 20 calls in the past 10 days from people living near the wind power development. All were concerned about the future of a single bald eagle’s nest located near where one of the towers is slated to be put up, in Norfolk’s Jackson Gunn woodlot.

“We have a wind generation tower that is being erected several hundred metres from this bald eagle nest,” Nash said. “I am asking, please, just stop the erection of this wind turbine.”

The bald eagle is an endangered species in southern Ontario. The Canadian Peregrine Foundation works toward the restoration and recovery of endangered birds of prey, including eagles.

Even though the eagle is listed as an endangered species in southern Ontario, Nash said there’s not much chance of averting a potential tragedy.

“Nothing can be done until the bird is found dead or its left the site,” Nash said. “Nothing can be done until the tragedy happens.”

Nash said the problem with the tower being so close to the nest is that eagles are often driven from nesting sites because of small environmental changes. He said just cutting down a tree in an area is enough to drive an eagle from its nest, and the construction of a wind tower will likely have the same effect.

“The birds abandon these sites,” Nash said. “They’re that sensitive to some of these environmental changes.

“These raptors are neurotic, high-strung by nature.”

Nash said the nest in question has been home to eagles on and off since the 1940s. If the eagles are forced to move to a new location or are harmed in any way because of the wind development, Nash said he will launch a lawsuit against AIM PowerGen.

Ansar Gafur, vice-president of external relations with AIM PowerGen, said his company followed all environmental regulations when deciding where to locate its wind turbines. The provincial Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Natural Resources, Canadian Wildlife Services and Environment Canada were all involved in the process.

“We have done what we needed to do and we followed the guidelines,” Gafur said. “Our environmental assessment was a collaboration of federal and provincial policies.”

Gafur said AIM biologist Dr. Ross James, a bird expert who’s worked for the Royal Ontario Museum and University of Toronto, found that eagles near the wind farm site face disruptions throughout the year that they have adapted to, in particular from farming operations

“Biologists seem to think the birds are smart enough and it's not going to be a problem at the end of the day, but we don’t know.”

Gafur said AIM is monitoring the nest in question and that it is still home to eagles, despite any disruption at the site. He said studying the wind development’s effect on birds was one of the most critical parts of AIM’s construction preparation.

Gafur also said a 400-metre wide corridor between the lake and eagle’s nest was left open to allow the birds access to the lake.

“If we didn’t care about the birds the bald eagle in particular we could have put the tower between the bald eagle and the lake,” Gafur said.

Dan Elliott, area supervisor with the Ministry of Natural Resources in Aylmer, said AIM completed all required environmental assessments before beginning construction of its wind turbines. He said the ministry won’t intervene until there’s proof eagle habitat has been interfered with or the birds leave the site.

“We don’t want to interfere with a company’s development until we have evidence,” Elliott said. “We’re going to be watching very closely the impact the towers have on these birds.”

Elliott said there’s a chance construction of the towers could impact the birds during a critical nesting period, between mid-February and June.

“Our existing endangered species act protects species, but there’s nothing to stop work being done where nothing has happened,” he said. “It’s a reactive policy.”

Because wind power generation is a new industry in Ontario, Elliot said policies regarding the construction and placement of turbines will eventually have to be put in place.

AIM held four open houses that allowed the public a chance to comment on plans for the wind farm currently under construction. The company also published details of the project in local newspapers.

“During the environmental assessment process, we did consult with the public,” Gafur said. “There was ample notice for anyone to bring up these issues. These opportunities came and went and we didn’t hear from anyone.”

Gafur said the tower located near the eagle’s nest will be “going up shortly,” but didn’t provide the exact date. As for Nash’s threat of a lawsuit, Gafur said the eagle falls under provincial jurisdiction and he sees the prospect of legal

action as unlikely.

But Nash said the issue of power generating wind turbines and their effect on birds isn’t going away anytime soon.

“It’s going to have a major impact on this province and the rest of Canada,” he said.

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