Federal judge in Md. halts work on W.Va. wind farm, citing potential harm to endangered bats

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Judge halts W.Va. wind farm due to endangered bats

GREENBELT, Md. — Work on a West Virginia wind power project has been halted by a federal judge who sided with environmentalists’ claim that the project would harm an endangered bat.

U.S. District Judge Roger Titus issued the order Tuesday, citing potential harm to the federally endangered Indiana bat.

John Stroud, co-chairman of one of the environmental groups that filed the lawsuit, Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy, said group members were “really delighted with the ruling.”

“We’ve been working on this for a while and the judge saw things our way, and we’re really pleased,” said Stroud, a rare book dealer who owns a farm a mile and a half from the wind power site.

The Washington-based Animal Welfare Institute and the Williamsburg, W.Va.-based Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy sued Rockville-based Beech Ridge Energy and its parent, Invenergy LLC. The plaintiffs claimed the 119-turbine Beech Ridge project in Greenbrier County, W.Va., violated the federal Endangered Species Act because the wind farm was likely to kill and injure endangered Indiana bats and the developers had not obtained an incidental take permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Such permits are required when landowners, companies, state or local governments build projects that might harm wildlife that is listed as endangered or threatened.

An attorney for the developers, Clifford Zatz, said in his opening arguments that the lawsuit had put the $300 million, environmentally responsible, renewable energy project in “limbo” because of an untested hypothesis “over a rare bat that no one has ever seen at the site.”

Titus ordered Beech Ridge and its Chicago-based parent to stop building turbines until it gets a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The judge also barred the company from operating any of the 40 existing turbines between April 1 and Nov. 15, when the bats are migrating.

Invenergy attorney Joe Condo said the company “continues to be committed to the Beech Ridge project and bringing clean renewable energy to West Virginia.”

“As ordered by the judge, we will approach the Fish and Wildlife Service and begin the Incidental Take Permit process so that we can complete the project,” Condo said in a statement. “We are very optimistic that the permit will be granted and the project can reach its full potential.”

Plaintiffs’ attorney Eric Glitzenstein said the ruling sends the important message “that while renewable energy is important, compliance with the Endangered Species Act is equally important and that there is a right way to develop these projects and a wrong way. The wrong way is to commit yourself to a project and go full steam ahead without making sure you know what the adverse impacts are, particularly when an endangered species is concerned.”

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