Monday, March 26, 2012

Fate of falcon nest box on FirstEnergy's Eastlake plant up in the air

Should Akron-Based FirstEnergy actually follow through and completely shut down its Eastlake coal-fired power plant the artificially peregrine falcon nesting box likely will  be removed from  utility’s imposing multi-chambered smoke stack.

There is hope, though, both for the power plant and for the falcons.

FirstEnergy earlier this year announced that it was going to shutter the Eastlake power plant and several others. All of these power plants use coal as the generating fuel source.

However, the Eastlake and the other plants are use older and less environmentally friendly coal-fired generating systems that do not meet newer U.S. Environmental Protection Agency clean air standards.

Thus, FirstEnergy believes, it would be less expensive to shut them down later this year than to reconfigure them with newer, cleaner burning systems.

And the utility is now looking at doing just that with the usage potential  for the Eastlake plant coming at peak times during the summer and winter, utility officials say.

To make a long story short, if that refurbishment should occur than what might be good for human air quality may also be good for falcons.

And for fishermen, too, who often flock to the Eastlake-CEI seawall in the dead of winter to take advantage of the warm and open water that is spewed out of the plant when its systems are operational.

But for the falcons the fact that their nesting box may remain and accessed will help ensure a platform for the raising of further broods of birds.

“Assuming we still have access we’ll be working there but where we go in the future is uncertain since this is our 10th year for the program,” said Scott Peters, the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s wildlife management administrator for the agency’s Northeast Ohio office in Akron.

The nesting box is attached about 300 feet up and is accessed from a small portal in the concrete and steel-reinforced smoke stack.

Since 2005 the pair of falcons that have consistently utilized the nesting box has successfully raised 29 offspring. This is the most of any other falcon nest in Northeast Ohio, wildlife agency officials say.

Of chief concern is whether FirstEnergy will operate the slow, ponderous elevator that crawls up the stack's outer wall. Should the plant definitely close, the elevator doors shut tight then the nesting box would be dismantled; a process that would require a federal permit.

“We’re not sure of everything just yet but if we can we’d like to go up and band the chicks but the only way we could do that is if we are allowed to use the elevator,” said also Laurie Graber, wildlife research technician for the agency’s Northeast Ohio office.

A spokesman for FirstEnergy said the utility is researching the subject.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twiter: @Fieldkorn

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