Federal officials have decided to let a proposed southeastern Minnesota wind farm pursue a permit that would allow for accidental deaths and injuries of bald eagles.
The worst-case scenario is that eight to 15 bald eagles per year would die as a result of the 48-turbine project New Era Wind Farm near Red Wing, the Fish and Wildlife Service said in a letter to state regulators Wednesday. Hundreds of thousands of birds die each year while flying through wind farms nationwide.
The federal agency said its estimate for the New Era Wind Farm does not reflect the effects of possible strategies to reduce the number of eagles killed and, if a permit is eventually granted, the goal would be a much lower figure, the Star Tribune reported Thursday (http://bit.ly/S8wTcb ).
The company has said it estimates one eagle would be killed per year.
The project, which still faces several regulatory hurdles, has drawn national attention as one of the first to test the federal government's disputed new strategy for managing the lethal conflicts between wind turbines and birds or bats by allowing some eagle deaths.
Several similar federal permits are in the works, but none has been granted. The Goodhue County project is the furthest along in the process, said Kelly Fuller of the American Bird Conservancy, who maintains that the site is inappropriate.
"That is too many bald eagles," Fuller said of the new Fish and Wildlife estimate. "This is the kind of project that could be an enormous black eye for (the) wind industry."
Peter Mastic, owner of New Era, did not immediately return a phone call from The Associated Press on Thursday.
New Era Wind, previously known as AWA Goodhue Wind, applied for a permit four years ago. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is expected to hold hearings on it later this year. The project has already faced legal actions and resistance by many residents of the mostly agricultural area.
The letter from the Fish and Wildlife Service and comments by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources came in response to the company filing a bird and bat protection plan, which the PUC has yet to consider.
Tony Sullins, field supervisor for the regional Fish and Wildlife office, said in the letter that about 418 bald eagles live around the project's 20-square-mile footprint. Documents said the area has about 10 active nests, and opponents say they recently identified two more.
Even the worst case is not enough to endanger the local bald eagle population, Sullins wrote, so the agency is willing to consider the company's request if the permit includes strategies for significantly reducing potential kills.
Sullins told the Star Tribune possibilities include moving turbines away from risky spots, turning them off during migrations or other times when there are a lot of eagles in the area, and removing animal carcasses and roadkill, which draw birds scavenging for food.
Page 2 of 2 - Along with bald eagles, a few golden eagles have been seen in the area, though their main range is in the western part of North America.
The risk to them is low, Sullins said, one to two possible deaths over the 30-year life of the project. But the law does not provide for permits to kill golden eagles in this part of the country, so if one were to collide with a turbine, the U.S. Department of Justice could prosecute.