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Environmental > News Hits

Cross winds

Plans for wind power sites have some lake-watchers taking notice

 

Published 4/21/2010

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As a recreational sailor, Rep. Tim Bledsoe (D-Grosse Pointe) is familiar with the challenges of sailing on Lake St. Clair on hot summer days.

Drifting is more like it, as the lake, affectionately known as "Lake St. Stupid," often doesn't offer much breeze. On the stillest of days, there can be late afternoon wind on the Detroit River as the city heats up and sucks wind down that corridor. But out on the lake, there's not much breeze to propel boats.

And Bledsoe, whose district includes virtually all of the Pointes' lakefront, thinks that's reason enough to oppose the installation of wind turbines that a Canadian company is proposing along the Ontario shoreline and into the lake.

"I am not opposed to the idea of wind turbines, but what we need is a reliable wind source," Bledsoe says. "You get that with a large body of water being adjacent to land. Lake St. Clair is too small."

Bledsoe is hosting an information forum on the project, scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Monday, May 3, at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial in Grosse Pointe Farms.

Based on the e-mail and telephone calls he's gotten, there should be plenty of opponents in the crowd.

"I don't think there's a single, particular reason for the concern," Bledsoe says. "I think there is a kind of nagging anxiety that these pose and an unknown threat in some ways to the quality of life in our community. That would include potential noise that might be generated. I think there's an aesthetic concern that is a problem for some. I think there is concern for possible contamination of the water as construction of the wind turbine disturbs the sediment, and I've also heard a concern about issues involving migratory birds."

Jon Somes, of Grosse Pointe Park, plans to be at Bledsoe's forum. He's mapped the proposed locations of the turbines based on the project description reports from SouthPoint Wind. That's the Leamington, Ontario-based company that plans to install 15 wind turbines in Lake Erie about a mile offshore from Kingsville, Union and Leamington as early as this fall. SouthPoint also has proposed a second phase of hundreds more, including the several dozen in Lake St. Clair.

Somes, a sailor who also owns a powerboat, says the turbines will cut off an area about one mile wide by three miles long from any boater access. "It would be a maze to try and sail through," he says. "From a recreational standpoint, I think it's a disaster."

SouthPoint Wind declined several requests from Metro Times to discuss the project, but e-mailed a statement. It said the company has submitted an application for the first phase Lake Erie project to the Ontario Power Authority's new program — called the Feed-In Tariff — that encourages the development of renewable energy. Application for the second phase Lake Erie-Lake St. Clair project "has not yet been made," the company said.

"We are continuing to move forward," the company said. "While we have completed comprehensive 'project description reports' to determine the potential for offshore wind projects on lakes Erie and St. Clair, we will not move forward without actively engaging the local community and fully reviewing the regulations provided by the Ontario government."

Southpoint has held several hearings in Ontario this spring — with much opposition to the plans — but Bledsoe's will be the first on the American side, even though the turbines all would be in Canadian waters. Confirmed speakers include a representative from the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth; Nick Schroeck, executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center; and Eric Sharp, outdoors writer at the Detroit Free Press. A representative from SouthPoint has been invited, Bledsoe says.

Schroeck says valid concern exists about the project.

"While wind turbines are far preferable to new coal-fired power plants, we need to ensure that facilities are sited in appropriate places that do not jeopardize critical habitat, recreation and property values," he says.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com.

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