Sophiasburgh Town Hall could have been mistaken for a court of law earlier this week.
More than 150 people filed in to hear the opening statements in the environmental review tribunal hearing appealing the issuance of approval for the Gilead Power wind turbine project at Ostrander Point.
In his opening remarks on behalf of the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists (PECFN) – who were the first of two groups to file appeals – lawyer Eric Gillespie told the panel of two adjudicators this case will be one of a kind.
“The case that you have before you, in my respectful submission, is going to be very clearly precedent-setting for all renewable energy approvals to come before the tribunal in the future,” stated Gillespie. “The reason for that is this is going to be the first time that the tribunal will hear from multiple individuals qualified to give expert opinion evidence on this issue. The other reason it is going to be, in our view, very much precedent-setting is what is present at Ostrander Point reflects, in our respectful submission, about the highest environmental and ecologically sensitive area that they could possibly consider putting an instillation of this nature in an area that has long been recognized by environmentalists of this community as an important ecological resource.”
PECFN’s appeal is solely on the environmental impact of the turbines.
Gillespie said the naturalists are going to have to demonstrate beyond a doubt that operation of the facility, as approved, will cause serious and irreversible harm to plant life, animal life and/or the natural environment.
There are 19 animal and avian species at risk that call Ostrander Point home, including the Blanding’s Turtle and the whip-poor-will and another 14 that are considered priority species that use the sensitive area as breeding grounds.
“If you look at the south shores of prince Edward County as a whole, it is one of the largest – if not the largest – undeveloped tracts of land we have left of our shoreline along Lake Ontario,” said Gillespie. “As a result, it has been recognized in a number of contests as an area that has been recognized as an important bird area and that destination hasn’t only been reflected at the local level, but at the provincial and national levels and even at the international and global level.
“This area has been of such concern you see here today large numbers of residents in Prince Edward County who obviously care very deeply about what happens.” said Gillespie.
Over the course of the hearing, Gillespie will call eight witnesses specializing in a variety of fields from biology to migratory bird paths and nocturnal bird migration.
Next up was Sylvia Davis, representing the Ministry of Environment. She gave a brief opening statement outlining the various processes Gilead has undergone to address concerns regarding the how they will work to protect or preserve the environment, habitat and endangered species.
The MOE will be calling expert witnesses from the Ministry of Natural of Resources. Gilead’s lawyer Doug Hamilton gave a short opening statement to advise the court on the company’s plans.
“What we’re planning to do at this point in time is to effectively separate our witnesses, both before and after the director’s witnesses,” said Hamilton.
Gilead’s witnesses were involved in the preparation of its application. Gilead will be calling experts in the areas of bird mortality, bird, bat, alvar, butterfly and Blanding’s Turtle experts.
The hearing resumes Wednesday and Thursday when expert witnesses will begin taking the stand.
Hearing dates for March 25 to 28 and April 3 to 5 have been set.
PECFN has filed a motion to delay construction until the hearing is complete in July. The naturalists’ motion will be addressed formally on March 18.
Appeals from the Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County on the grounds that turbines pose “negative risks to human health” will get underway after submissions from PECFN.
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