CRAIN’S Cleveland Business  |  September 09, 2018 04:00 AM

Letter: Don’t experiment with Lake Erie

I am writing in response to Ted Auch’s Aug. 26 op-ed, “Personal view: Icy feelings about offshore wind project are misguided.” I am a lifelong Clevelander, have a deep affection for Lake Erie and, in full disclosure, I am a community rights activist with no affection for the fossil fuel industry.

What concerns me about Auch’s piece and, more importantly, about the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. (LEEDCo) Icebreaker Industrial Wind Farm Project, is, as even Auch admits, this project is “the first built in fresh water”. In other words, Lake Erie, the people and the ecosystems of the lake are being used as an experiment. In other domains, we choose whether or not to participate in experiments. At minimum, we sign a consent form stating our understanding of the risks. But not here.

Auch wrote that those opposing the wind farm suffer from “Not in My Back Yard” (NIMBY) syndrome. Well, after six years as a community rights organizer and activist, I can tell you that most people become activists when their backyards are affected. So, I say good for the NIMBYs who actually do get active and especially for those who learn during the process that simply shifting harms from one community to the next is not a solution.

Has Auch even gone to LEEDCo’s website and noticed the similarities between this project and the fossil fuel extraction he cites? It’s disturbing to read on the home page of LEEDCo’s website that the U.S. Department of Energy did an environmental impact statement, finding “no significant impact.” This sounds familiar: It’s the same language our government uses with oil and gas projects forced into our communities. It’s code for, “The project is going through, regardless of impact.”

Let’s be real. These turbines are massive pieces of equipment placed in the shallowest of our Great Lakes. Lake Erie is already fragile with open lake dumping of wastes, sewage and fertilizer runoff, as well as algae blooms. Adding another major industrial project will have no impact?

There are innumerable sources describing the negative impact these wind farm projects have on people and communities placed on land. To believe that they will have no impact when placed in water seems suspicious and questionable.

What if we want to stop the project? We can go to hearings. According to LEEDCo’s website, the Icebreaker project hearings are taking place after the leases have been signed and after the U.S. Department of Energy already awarded the $40 million grant for the project. Doesn’t that sound like the public hearing might just be a formality?

Auch then says that the project would “benefit” Ohioans from jobs created. This is right out of the oil and gas industry playbook. The promise of jobs and economic growth helps lull people into ignoring the really tough questions. It’s a kind of economic black mail.

More than 11 million people depend on Lake Erie for drinking water. Shouldn’t we be the ones deciding if this industrial wind project is worth the risk? Instead, the Ohio Power Siting Board — a handful of people — have given the project a green light.

So when all is looked at from the perspective of the people and environment being sacrificed, is Auch saying that we should also sacrifice Lake Erie to even the score for what has been done in Southeast Ohio with natural gas and coal? Instead of helping to fragment communities by echoing words of an industry that has exploited natural resources and communities for profit, why not recognize the commonality of our problems and work together to change this destructive system?

Tish O’Dell, Ohio organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund