Environmental groups and Wolfe Island residents concerned about a proposed wind plant have had another appeal rejected for more government scrutiny on the contentious project.
This time, the denial came from the minister of tourism, who was appointed to make the decision late last week.
In a letter to the proponent of the project, Canadian Hydro Developers Inc., Tourism Minister Peter Fonseca briefly outlined his decision.
“I do not consider it in the public interest to require mediation or any further assessment of this project through an individual environmental assessment,” he said.
The minister’s decision brings the $400-million project one step closer to construction, pending the receipt of other necessary permits and approvals.
“We are working diligently to develop a responsible, sustainable wind plant on Wolfe Island that will deliver many benefits to the community and province and look forward to start of construction,” John Keating, chief executive officer of Canadian Hydro, said in a press release yesterday.
Construction on the project is expected to start in a few weeks.
Environment Minister John Gerretsen, who’s also MPP for Kingston and the Islands, recused himself of his ministerial duty in the case because of what he termed a perceived conflict of interest.
Gerretsen received roughly 15 applications this spring to appeal a ministry decision that denied requests for Canadian Hydro Developers to complete an environmental assessment.
Gail Kenney is a member of the group Wolfe Island Residents for the Environment, which has had many concerns about the wind-turbine project. She was one of the parties to appeal the decision in hopes that greater scrutiny would result in a more environmentally friendly project.
Throughout the process, she has insisted that she’s not against the project but would like to see more attention paid to the locations of the turbines.
Fonseca’s decision this week has disappointed the environmental group Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, which maintains it was inappropriate for the tourism minister to have the final say in a precedent-setting environmental application.
“We didn’t even get a chance to complain that it went to the tourism minister, which is an absolute slap in the face to the environmental process,” said Mark Mattson of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper.
“These are serious quasi-judicial processes dealing with expert evidence.”
Mattson said the government’s decision not to allow closer scrutiny of the Wolfe Island project sets a dangerously low standard for approving energy projects in Ontario.
“They’ve taken every shortcut -the government has been as far removed as possible from the public comment and notice period and there have been no government experts who have been given the same weight as the proponent’s experts,” he said.
“Their evidence has basically been taken at its word and the public’s evidence has been ignored. There have been no changes to this project, in spite of the amount of work and money the public has spent to try and protect the Thousand Islands and this important migratory bird route for North America.”
Mattson said it is particularly frustrating that the project, had it been in the early stages of the approvals process, wouldn’t be permitted in Ontario today because of a new policy that protects bird habitats from energy projects.
“So, in fact, this project wouldn’t even be getting off the ground if it started today,” he said.
Mattson said Lake Ontario Waterkeeper had asked for mediation to look at how, among other things, this new policy would affect the locations of the turbines for the project on Wolfe Island.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper continues to look at options that would allow residents to appeal the minister’s decision.
“Clearly, the process stinks -there is no appeal process to this decision by the minister,” said Mattson.
By Jennifer Pritchett
5 June 2008
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