After many, many hours of expert testimony from dozens of witnesses, the Environmental Review Tribunal examining the decision to approve an industrial wind turbine project at Ostrander Point is shifting gears this week, turning from plants and animals to humans.
For the better part of the last two months ERT panel members Robert Wright and Heather Gibbs have heard how nine 500-foot high turbines, the 40 truckloads of concrete needed to form the base to support each structure, the football field spinning wingspan of each turbine, as well as the road system needed to string these behemoths together will impact birds, bats, butterflies, turtles and indeed the very special alvar habitat that exists on this South Marysburgh shoreline. The have heard experts hired by the wind developer counter that while animals and birds will indeed be harmed by industrializing this bit of Crown land—the damage to the species involved will not be so great as to be irreversible.
That is the test. So great is the province’s desire to see industrial wind turbines spin across Ontario’s horizon—the full weight of the government, its ministries and it hired talent are employed to clear regulatory obstacles for developers. This means that in Demorestville, folks from the Ministry of Environment and those from the Ministry of Natural Resources are in the strangely contorted position of supporting the destruction of the animals and habitat it is their job to protect—as long as the damage may be reversed at some point time down the road.
The ERT panel has heard from Ministry of Natural Resources staff, one of whom is employed to count carcasses at the base of industrial wind turbines for three years after the machines are erected. If the kill rate exceeds a certain MNR-established threshold, more monitoring is prescribed.
Last week Gilead Power flew in University of California at Davis Researcher Fraser Shilling from Sacramento to testify that turtles are slower than motor vehicles. But, Shilling testified, if vehicle speeds on the road network linking industrial wind turbines at the Ostrander site are monitored and enforced the Blanding’s turtle should survive. Moreover if the developer creates an artificial habitat nearby to accommodate the turtles displaced by the massive turbine bases, it is “unlikely to suffer serious and irreversible harm.”
“The roads by themselves won’t be enough to fragment the Blanding’s habitat,” explained Shilling.
Though an expert in the restoring connectivity of natural systems bisected by roadways, Shilling has never worked in Ontario. Nor the Great Lakes. Nor an alvar habitat.
Under-cross examination Shilling acknowledged he didn’t know how many Blanding’s turtles populate Ostrander Point.
Prince Edward County Field Naturalists lawyer Eric Gillespie asked Shilling if only three Blanding’s turtles lived on the site and one was killed in the construction whether that would amount to “serious and irreversible harm.”
Shilling said it would.
Gillespie countered that Shilling was in no position to conclude that serious and irreversible harm was unlikely to be caused to these turtles without first knowing how many lived there.
This is how the hearing goes. Long debates about whether someone is qualified to testify about an extremely narrow aspect of the natural life systems that exist at Ostrander Point. Then some say the harm is irreversible other say it isn’t. No one says harm won’t occur as a result of this industrial development.
The test is much higher for PECFN than the developer. They must persuade Wright and Gibbs the harm will permanently alter the ability of the species or habitat. The developer only needs to show the harm is unlikely to be permanent.
TURBINES AND HUMANS
Today the hearing turns toward the risk the proposed industrial wind turbines pose to human health. This appeal has been taken up by APPEC (Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County).
The test is bit lower for APPEC in that it must prove serious harm to human health, but not necessarily irreversible harm.
“APPEC will present the latest acoustical, epidemiological and medical research, as well as the testimonies of Ontario wind victims,” writes Henri Garand, APPEC chair. “While previous ERT appeals featured a battle among experts, this time Ontario residents will recount the adverse health effects they personally experience when living next to wind turbines despite supposedly protective setbacks.”
The hearings continue this week at Sophiasburgh Town Hall in Demorestville. They are set to begin at 9:30 today, Thursday and Friday.
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