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Turtle lovers fight wind farm

On one side: green energy. On the other: Blanding’s turtle.

Prince Edward County naturalists are gearing up to fight a new wind farm that they say threatens migrating birds and a rare turtle.

But the project developer insists no harm will come to the sensitive species.

In a decision quietly released just before Christmas, Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources issued a permit for a nine-turbine wind farm at Ostrander Point, at the southeastern tip of the county.

The Prince Edward County Field Naturalists say they’ll appeal the decision. The group has hired lawyer Eric Gillespie to argue their case.

The developer, Gilead Power, says it will take steps to protect local wildlife and its habitat, which includes two species listed as “threatened” by Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources: Blanding’s turtle and the whippoorwill.

The permit issued by the ministry on Dec. 20 allows Gilead to “kill, harm and harass Blanding’s turtle and whippoorwill, as well as damage and destroy the habitat of whippoorwill,” the project’s critics say.

But Kevin Lennon, a company spokesman, says the development will only improve conditions for wildlife in the area – once a military training ground.

“They’ve consulted with a bunch of leading species-at-risk people,” Lennon said. “All construction is going to occur outside periods at which the Blanding’s turtles or whippoorwills are active, or even present.”

Gilead will also monitor how wildlife on the site fares during and after the development, and must publish the results.

The company is “quite confident” that the measures being taken will be effective, Lennon said.

The company, for example, says the turbines will not be placed near sensitive wetlands on the site. The turbines, transformer station and roads will cover only about 2 per cent of the site, it argues.

Turbines will be set back at least 200 metres from the Lake Ontario shoreline – a distance the company says will significantly reduce the number of birds and bats that will be struck by turbine blades.

The permit also requires Gilead to acquire and maintain a nearby 37hectare property that has habitat suitable for both Blanding’s turtles and whippoorwills – a condition the company has met.

None of this satisfies the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists, who plan to appeal the decision to the province’s Environmental Review Tribunal.

They predict the project will be “disastrous” for wildlife.

“If this project goes ahead, it will put huge big turbine pads and access roads through that piece of crown land,” said Cheryl Anderson of the naturalists in an interview. “There will essentially be no habitat left there.”

The road network will interfere with the movements of Blanding’s turtles that inhabit the site, Anderson says.

She’s especially worried about hawks, owls and eagles that float around the area in the fall.

Provincial law says an appeal must be filed by Jan. 4, forcing the naturalists to assemble their case over the holiday season.