CLEVELAND — A first-of-its-kind wind project awaits its fate from the Ohio Supreme Court.

What You Need To Know

  • Two northeast Ohioans question the Icebreaker project's environmental impact in a lawsuit

  • Icebreaker Wind would put six wind turbines off the coast of Lake Erie

  • Those involved with the project said it’s a big opportunity for the region

On a cold winter day on the shores of Lake Erie, Susan Dempsey admired the view from her condo in Bratenahl overlooking the lake. She also knows what it’s been through. 

“I’ve lived through this lake being so polluted that a lot of insects that breed on the lake stopped breeding. We stopped seeing them, and now the lake is not polluted, and so I care about what our future will be in fresh water,” said Dempsey.

She’s concerned about the wind energy project that would be the first freshwater wind farm in North America. Dempsey is one of two residents with a legal challenge to the project being determined by the Ohio Supreme Court. Dempsey has concerns about the turbines' environmental impact. 

“They are filled with hundreds of gallons of lubricant. They require miles of transmission lines that will cross through the base of the lake where centuries worth of heavy metals and other caustic materials lay dormant. So we felt that it was important for someone to speak up for the lake,” said Dempsey.  

Dempsey and her lawyer argue that the project was approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board without properly determining that impact, especially to migrating birds and bats. It's an argument her lawyer made to Ohio’s highest court back in December.

“There is not one person in this court room, or anywhere for that matter, that can tell you how many birds and bats fly through the rotor-swept zone at the project site,” said Mark Tucker, lawyer for Susan Dempsey and Robert Maloney. “And we were repeatedly reminded of all the studies that Icebreaker has submitted, the data they’ve collected with regard to bird and bat migration, but no one can deny this fact: There has been no collection of that data at the project site.”

The Icebreaker Wind project is led by the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo), which would build six wind turbines 10 miles off the coast. Their lawyer defended the project at the same hearing.

“The experts had testified and the board acknowledged there was no evidence in front of it indicating that birds were at greater risk due to an offshore facility, but there was evidence that birds might actually be at a lower risk. And that is because there is no nesting habitat. There is no stopover habitat. Birds are not going to be defending from their high altitude migration to land at the project site,” said Jonathan Secrest, lawyer for Icebreaker Windpower Inc. 

LEEDCo has worked closely with the Port of Cleveland, which argues that the necessary research has been done. 

“All of the permits that were granted by the state and federal authorities with that in mind have been granted. Leedco has done all the necessary studies and requirements to get this going,” said Jade Davis, vice president of External Affairs for the Port of Cleveland.

Davis said Icebreaker would create 500 jobs during construction, and roughly 50 permanent jobs. He sees it has a major opportunity for the region. 

“Having offshore wind here in the Cleveland area just provides our manufacturers, our job creators more opportunities to be able to procure power and be able to procure reliable power,” said Davis.  

He also sees Icebreaker as a test for future wind projects and a chance for northeast Ohio to lead.  

“This is the test project. Although we do have all the studies that show this should be successful, the reason you build this is because this is the test, this is how we prove that, and this can be shown through this LEEDCo project,” said Davis. “We position our region as a place in which this industry can really take off from a job creation standpoint, from an investment standpoint.” 

But as Dempsey awaits the court’s decision, she’s concerned the six turbines could open the door to more turbines and more risk. 

“People would like to think that this is about the view from the lake, it is not. It truly is about what happens to the lake and we want to protect this as one of the greatest natural resources of Ohio and a number of other states and Canada,” said Dempsey.

The case is still being deliberated by the Supreme Court of Ohio.