The area off Maryland's coast that would be open for leasing is less than half what had originally been proposed; it was limited to avoid conflicts with shipping entering and leaving Delaware Bay. Other areas could be excluded as more detailed impact studies are done.

The draft environmental assessment issued last summer included an option for shrinking the state's offshore wind leasing area even more — by roughly 80 percent — to steer clear of other areas shippers are concerned about. The final report bypassed that option without explanation.

But Dana E. Goward, director of maritime transportation systems at the U.S. Coast Guard, said the service is still studying potential shipping issues stemming from wind turbines along the Atlantic coast and could recommend that other areas not be leased.

Bird lovers reacted cautiously to Thursday's announcement.

Kurt R. Schwarz, conservation chair for the Maryland Ornithological Society, said his group has concerns about the potential for the 400-foot tall turbines to disrupt or harm migrating birds, particularly red knots, which stop in Delaware Bay each spring on their annual flight from Brazil to Canada. Their numbers have fallen so much in recent years that they are under consideration for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. Schwarz said the red knots' migration path takes them through turbine leasing areas off Maryland and Delaware.

Officials said those and other concerns must be addressed by wind developers before turbines could be built, and that the only structures being put up in the next year or two would be a handful of meteorological towers to monitor wind and weather conditions. Those towers would not pose a significant risk to birds, officials said.

Schwarz said lighting on the towers would have to be set up to avoid attracting birds, noting cases of large kills associated with lights on similar structures on land.

Schwarz said the ornithological society does not oppose offshore wind but wants officials to "proceed cautiously."

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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