Bird conservationists filed a lawsuit in a federal court challenging the Icebreaker offshore wind farm in Lake Erie, Ohio – a move branded by the project's developer as “unwarranted” and against wider environmental interests.

Two groups claimed the Icebreaker demonstration project – which is set to deploy six turbines to create America’s first freshwater offshore wind farm – threatens multiple species of birds in the area.

The action is against the US Department of Energy and US Army Corps of Engineers for alleged failure to properly consider bird impacts in environmental assessments of the project.

LEEDCo, a non-profit, public-private partnership based there, is co-developing Icebreaker Wind with Norwegian equity investor Fred Olsen Renewables.

Mike Parr of the American Bird Conservancy claimed: “American tax dollars are paying for more than a third of the project cost – but a Norwegian corporation is in partnership with the nonprofit project implementer, LEEDCo.

“Why are US taxpayer dollars supporting this in the first place? Migratory birds are a common good of the American people.”

The campaigners claims Icebreaker could be “precedent-setting” for large-scale offshore wind development in the Great Lakes.

Icebreaker plans to use MHI Vestas 3.45MW turbines, specially adapted offshore versions of Vestas’ V126-3.45 onshore machines. It is targeting start of construction in 2021 and operation in 2022.

LEEDCo president David Karpinski said in a statement sent to Recharge that detailed surveys in consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) “demonstrated very low bird activity within the project area.

“Based on that data, the USFWS ultimately concluded that the project poses 'limited direct risk’’ to migratory birds and dropped its initial recommendation that an Environmental Impact Statement be prepared,” said Karpinski.

“We believe the US Department of Energy and US Army Corps of Engineers have fully and faithfully carried out their obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act to evaluate the impact of the project on all aspects of the environment.”

Karpinski added that further review “is not warranted and would not add to the analysis beyond additional expense and delay.

“The clean energy that these turbines will generate is an important step toward reducing emissions and pollution, and combating climate change, which will provide great benefits to birds and other wildlife as well as all Ohioans.

“That is why Icebreaker is supported by the most respected environmental organisations, including the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Ohio Environmental Council.”

Legal action over potential bird impacts has faced a number of major offshore wind projects around the world in the industry’s short history.

Lengthy legal action by the RSPB in Scotland caused several years of delays to projects there, and bird conservationists in Germany have also turned up the legal heat on offshore wind developers.

Orsted’s 2.4GW Hornsea 3 off eastern England in September saw a consent decision delayed for six months after bird charities raised last minute fears over its impact.

Note: Update adds reaction from Icebreaker