Center for Biological Diversity intervenes in tidal power project
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The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a motion to intervene in Turnagain Arm Tidal Energy Corp.’s application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a preliminary permit for the Turnagain Arm Tidal Electric Generation Project.
In a June 11 motion to intervene the center said it “seeks to ensure wildlife and their habitat - in particular highly imperiled Cook Inlet beluga whales - are protected and to ensure the Project is in the public interest as FERC evaluates the application.”
Christopher D.L. Lee, president and CEO of Turnagain Arm Tidal Energy filed for a preliminary permit for the project March 8.
The project would build two 8-mile tidal fences consisting of 1,000 megawatts of turbines each - a total of 2,000 megawatts of peak generating capacity, with a 1,200-megawatt baseline aggregate capacity.
The first tidal fence would stretch from just off Fire Island to Point Possession on the Kenai Peninsula with a service road across the top allowing the turbines to be serviced from the Kenai side. A second 7.5-mile tidal fence would be 5-7 miles south of Fire Island and a minimum of 5 miles from the first tidal fence.
“The blockage ratio of the tidal bridge will be on the order of 50%, leaving a significant part of the waterway open to sea life, sediment, and water flow,” the company said, with moving parts 30 feet wide and 30 feet long “so that the fish, whales, and other sea mammals can swim through without any difficultly.”
The company said the turbines turn at a rate compared to a revolving door at a hotel entrance and said the project “can be designed to enable the free movement of fish and whales and produces no noise or other pollution when in place and operating.”
Center concerns“The Project may disturb and harm Cook Inlet beluga whales and their habitat,” the center said in its motion. It told FERC it has been actively involved in seeking protection for the whales, and in 1999 submitted, with allies, “the first petition to protect the whale under the Endangered Species Act,” repetitioning in 2006. In 2007, the center said, the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed listing the whales as endangered, and in 2008 the center said, it sued to speed a response.
In 2011, NMFS put the Cook Inlet beluga whale on the endangered species list, after the center noticed its intent to sue for inaction. NMFS proposed designating almost 2 million acres of critical habitat.
The center said it has “engaged in numerous lawsuits to ensure activities in Cook Inlet, including energy projects, are sufficiently protective of this imperiled species.”
Beluga whale stocks are unique and geographically isolated, the center said, with only 279 individuals of the Cook Inlet belugas remaining, down from a historical estimate of 1,300 animals.
“NMFS estimates that the population is currently declining at a rate of 2.3 percent per year,” the center said.
Cook Inlet belugas became a “Species in the Spotlight” in 2015, a NMFS designation “which prioritizes those species at the highest risk of extinction,” the center said, and considered a No. 1 recovery priority, designating a species which, because of rapid population decline or habitat destruction, is almost certain to become extinct, with well understood threats and needed management actions with a high probability of success and where the species is in conflict with economic activity such as construction or other development.
“In its 2016 Recovery Plan for the species, NMFS identified noise as a threat of high concern, with habitat loss and reduction in prey as threats of medium concern,” the center said.
“The Center seeks to participate in these proceedings to ensure public resource values, including conservation of Cook Inlet beluga whales, are protected,” it said in its motion, and also “to ensure that any authorization of the Project complies with all state and federal environmental laws.”
It said it doesn’t have enough information on details and potential impacts to take a position on whether the project should be constructed, but “reserves the right to take any position consistent with the goal of protecting the public interest and upholding environmental laws.”
- KRISTEN NELSON