GREENBELT, Md. - Some conservationists have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the start-up of Maryland's first industrial wind farm because it allegedly threatens federally protected Indiana bats.
The complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt seeks to stop Baltimore-based Constellation Energy Group Inc. from beginning operation of its 28 turbines on Backbone Mountain in Garrett County unless the company first obtains an "incidental take permit" from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for any Indiana bats that might be hit or injured by the spinning blades.
Constellation spokesman Kevin Thornton said the company has consulted with federal wildlife officials and is in the process of applying for the permit. He said a study is under way to determine what harm the turbines might do to the endangered bats, and Constellation hopes to have federal approval by spring.
A similar lawsuit brought in the same Greenbelt court last year forced developers of a West Virginia wind project to reduce the number of planned turbines after the judge ruled that Indiana bats hibernating in the area almost certainly would be harmed by the blades. The West Virginia developer also agreed not to operate the turbines at night or at times of year when the bats would be flying until it obtained federal permits.
The four plaintiffs in the new lawsuit are the Baltimore-based Maryland Conservation Council; council Vice President Ajax Eastman; the Oakland-based group Save Western Maryland; and environmental activist D. Daniel Boone of Bowie.
They claim they wind turbines, with blades extending 415 feet high, will "almost certainly" injure or kill Indiana bats.
The small brownish-black mammals range across much of the eastern United States, but their population is so low and thinly spread that federal officials consider them at risk of extinction. Listening equipment Constellation set up while building the turbines this year detected calls of Indiana bats. The lawsuit contends there is a "robust population" of Indiana bats that hibernates in a cave 13 miles from the project site.
Eric Robison, cofounder of Save Western Maryland, told The (Baltimore) Sun the lawsuit is meant to press Constellation to follow through with its public pledge to get the federal permit.
"They've claimed that they're very good corporate citizens, and that they were looking to be environmentally sound in their practices," said Robison, who lives on the mountain near the Constellation wind project.
He said a similar lawsuit will likely be filed to block another industrial wind project on Backbone Mountain built by the Synergics Group of Annapolis. Synergics has said there are no endangered bats near its 20 turbines a short distance away, so the company doesn't plan to seek a federal permit.
Leopoldo Miranda, supervisor of the wildlife service's Chesapeake field office in Annapolis, said that while endangered bats have been detected near Constellation's turbines, their numbers don't appear to be as great as in the West Virginia case.