The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy, and a West Virginia local conservationist filed a complaint against Beech Ridge Energy and its parent company in June, contending that their massive industrial wind power facility being built in Greenbrier County, W.Va., will unlawfully injure and kill the endangered Indiana bats who live near the project site.
"We were hoping to avoid a federal lawsuit," says John Stroud, spokesperson for Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy. "However, Beech Ridge Energy is currently moving forward with construction, despite repeated requests to first bring the project into compliance with the Endangered Species Act."
The wind project will include 124 turbines, each nearly 400 feet tall, along a 23-mile stretch of forested Appalachian mountain ridgelines. Habitat-destroying roads, buildings and transmission lines necessary to operate the facility will also be installed.
Meyer, Glitzenstein & Crystal, the public interest law firm representing the plaintiffs, had informed Beech Ridge Energy of the likelihood that its wind power project would adversely impact the endangered bats. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had also warned Beech Ridge of the project’s threat to bats, recommending a full three years of pre-construction wildlife monitoring before making a siting decision. Beech Ridge, however, failed to respond and has proceeded with construction plans.
Plaintiffs are particularly concerned about the project’s impacts in light of the increasing threat posed by White-nose Syndrome - a disease ravaging bat populations in the eastern U.S.
"According to conservative estimates, the Beech Ridge project alone is expected to kill more than 130,000 bats over a 20-year period," says D.J. Schubert, AWI wildlife biologist. "Poorly sited wind power projects in the eastern U.S. have already killed and maimed scores of bats."
The date and location of the trial still remains to be scheduled in what is possibly the first lawsuit challenging an industrial wind energy project under the Endangered Species Act.