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Second day of wind project hearing fails to yield accord; Environment Canada witness says Wolfe Island identified as area 'sensitive' to birds

The hearing into a controversial wind power project on Wolfe Island went behind closed doors yesterday as lawyers for all parties met privately for hours.

But as of yet, there is no agreement.

Just after 4 p.m. yesterday, Tim Wilkin, the lawyer for the Township of Frontenac Islands, told spectators that proceedings wouldn’t resume until today. He didn’t elaborate on the nature of the discussions.

The crowd of about 40 spectators – mostly local farmers who have optioned their land for lease, local politicians and residents – had been waiting patiently for two-and-a-half hours for the proceedings to start again in the gymnasium of Sacred Heart School on Wolfe Island.

Sarah McDermott, one of the two appellants in the appeal, declined to comment to the Whig-Standard on whether there were developments or a deal forthcoming.

The Wolfe Island resident appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board last January after the Township of Frontenac Islands passed a zoning bylaw that gave the development approval to move forward.

The zoning bylaw establishes the minimum distances the turbines can be located from roads, homes and other buildings.

McDermott and the other appellant, Dr. James Day, contend that these distances, or setbacks, are too small.

In their written notice of appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board, they had called for the township to rescind the bylaw.

But before the proceedings went behind closed doors yesterday, their lawyer, Peggy Smith, said in her opening statement to the board that her clients had agreed that amending the bylaw would satisfy them.

“We recognize that rescinding the bylaw is an extreme remedy – it would send the bylaw back through the planning process,” she told the hearing.

If all parties were to agree to amending the bylaw, Smith suggested public meetings on a new one could take place after the Environment Review Report, a key document that outlines the project and its environmental impacts, is released to the public sometime in the next couple of months.

She then called her first witness, who was Sheila Allan of Environment Canada. Allan wrote several letters on behalf of Environment Canada that recognized Wolfe Island as a “globally significant” bird habitat for grassland birds or songbirds, waterfowl, other wetland birds and raptors.

“We’ve identified this as a sensitive area with respect to birds,” she told the hearing yesterday.

The 86 turbines proposed for the wind plant will cover about 50 per cent of the western portion of Wolfe Island, which is a popular habitat for birds. Some of those turbines are planned to be erected near a provincially significant wetland.

Canadian Hydro Developers Inc. out of Calgary is planning to start construction on the project in the coming months and had hoped to be completed by the end of 2008.

Allan said the role of Environment Canada is to provide advice to Canadian Hydro and to other parties on the environmental impact of the turbines.

By Jennifer Pritchett

The Kingston Whig-Standard

25 July 2007