The fate of a 27 industrial wind turbine project planned for Prince Edward County’s south shore is now again in the hands of the Environmental Review Tribunal.
About 175 people for and against the WPD White Pines project packed the Wellington Community Centre Friday to hear final oral submissions on the ‘remedies’ proposed by the proponent in relation to impact on the endangered Blanding’s turtle and little brown bat.
In July 2015, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change approved the $200 million 20-year project to be built on private properties throughout South Marysburgh and Athol.
In February 2016, the ERT upheld the Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County’s appeal in part that the project would cause serious and irreversible harm to the turtles and bats. A remedy hearing was later ordered to provide WPD the opportunity to address three issues: road turtle mortality associated with upgrades to the public roadways through the life of the project, risks to the turtle onsite through installation of roads, turbine bases and cranes and mortality of the little brown bat from turbine strike. The ERT did note that this wind project presents a significant risk of serious harm to migrating birds and that the project site was poorly chosen from a migratory bird perspective.
In their final submissions Friday, lawyers for WPD Patrick Duffy and James Wilson gave an overview of their experts’ testimonies.
“The approval holder took those findings seriously,” said Duffy. “They retained an expert team to design two comprehensive avoidance and mitigation plans.”
Based on the opinion of Shawn Taylor, WPD’s ecological and construction mitigation expert, Duffy explained they could mitigate harm to the Blanding’s Turtle through the following remedies: enforcing timing restrictions to make sure they avoid times when the turtles are likely to be active; signage on the roads; training and education for those onsite, site security including camera surveillance, gates close to the turtles’ habitat and year end consultations with the Ministry of Environment.
Duffy said the roadways will not have shoulders and stone will be buried four to six inches beneath the roadway to ensure the turtles don’t nest there. He explained existing shoulders will also have vegetation comprised of a ‘tenacious grass seed mix’ to prevent nesting and solar heat will act as a deterrent. He added they will use cages or incubate the turtles’ eggs if needed to help ensure their survival rate.
“The approval holder is committed to retaining a site attendant whose responsibilities will be to walk the site twice a week throughout the life of the project,” assured Duffy.
He also informed the tribunal that there is still some unfinished business regarding a road user agreement with the municipality. The County gave the green light on the agreement in April 2016, however the paperwork is yet to be finalized.
Wilson provided an overview of the remedies offered by WPD’s bat expert Dr. Scott Reynolds.
“The period of greatest concern for the little brown bats appeared to be after sunset in the summer months from April to October and then they hibernate,” explained Wilson.
He said all of the turbines’ speeds would be curtailed from day one to 5.5 metres/second from sunset to sunrise from May 1 to September 30.
“We will increase mitigation measures for species at risk including the bat in the case of a single fatality,” said Wilson. “We will conduct search protocols from May to October. Ten turbines will be covered by the ministry protocol for search and they will represent the project as a whole. Another 10 will be searched every day. The goal is to gather as much information as possible for the first year the remaining seven will be searched twice per week.
MOECC lawyer Sylvia Davis said her client stood by the remedies presented.
Environmental lawyer Eric Gillespie representing appellants John Hirsch and APPEC said all of WPD’s experts’ testimony wasn’t based on ‘actual’ studies and that it was all ‘experimental’.
“Why don’t we try it on a species other than one that isn’t endangered,” suggested Gillespie who also represented the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists in their successful plight against Gilead Power Ostrander Point project. “It’s simple basic science that when you have the opportunity to try something you don’t try it on your most vulnerable populations. The correct remedy is to revoke the permit.”
Hirsch took issue with the curtailment process stating it is only to take place in the first full year. “If construction starts in the summer, then the curtailments don’t apply until the next full year.”
He also suggested the tribunal could conduct an independent study pointing to how an Ontario Wind Resistance report from 2012 at the Mohawk Wind Farm found 23 bats dead from six turbines.
He also raised the point that the Wynne government had recently cancelled all the LRP11 renewable energy projects.
“Perhaps if there was a need for energy then maybe one could be lenient on the environmental concerns but there is no need,” said Hirsch.
He thanked everyone in the room who supported and encouraging him throughout the process. “Together we will save the south shore.”
The tribunal said they will go over all of the written and oral submissions and deliver a verdict as soon as possible.