The hearings into the appeal of a wind energy project at Ostrander Point are nearing an end. The last witnesses were heard in Demorestville last week. Outside a steady spring drizzle quenched nearby crops and leafy green trees. It was a sharp contrast to the beginning of this process in March when a blizzard had locked the tribunal, developer and ministry of environment officials in wintry Prince Edward County overnight.
Since then, the hearing has veered at times from the absurd to the surreal. Most participants, though not all, strive to be polite, civil and courteous—even when discussing the possibility this industrial project might destroy the habitat of an endangered species, forever alter the landscape of this rugged Crown Land or force nearby residents to flee from their homes.
Mostly it has been dull process, one that has surely transformed a small grove of trees into documents whose spines likely won’t be cracked again after this week— all copied seven times. Sturdy and valiant members of Prince Edward County Field Naturalists (PECFN) and the Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County (APPEC) have witnessed every day of the hearing—preparing a report on each day of the proceedings.
The weight of this achievement is only truly revealed by attending such a hearing. The dullness is overwhelming at times, the patterns predictable, the pace of revelatory information gathering glacial.
As many as eight lawyers battling over seemingly minuscule bits of advantage presided over by two more lawyers eager to be seen as impartial and fair. The billable hours being consumed in this process would finance several senators’ weekend homes.
The overwhelming voice inside everyone’s head is surely screaming, “Get on with it.”
But it is never said aloud.
Most participants—even tribunal members Robert Wright and Heather Gibbs—have at times struggled to stay awake during some of the grindingly slow process. (And yes, two people do indeed comprise a tribunal in the topsy-turvy world of provincial government environment review).
Staying awake was a challenge lost by one hapless reporter on Friday morning. The increasing volume of the snoring from the back of the room triggered one of the few spontaneous moments of shared amusement since March. For a moment the tedium had been punctured.
From this correspondent’s limited perspective, the hearing—perhaps all such hearings—spent much more time debating whether they would actually listen to a witness than they did actually hearing what he or she had come to say.
So it was with physicist Dr. John Harrison on Friday morning. Harrison has enjoyed a wide and varied career studying and teaching on an array of subjects including quantum mechanics and the effect of high frequency sound waves in liquids and solids. Since his retirement Harrison has immersed himself in the physics of sounds emanating from industrial wind turbines. He lives on Amherst Island where a developer is nearing construction of a 32-turbine project that will leave virtually every resident under the shadow of the 500-foot industrial structures.
He has led the fight against the project on Amherst Island. He doesn’t reject wind energy out of hand—but he argues fervently that setbacks between the machines and humans must be established in science.
But his bias against wind turbines next to humans earned him tough scrutiny on Friday by both the Ministry of Environment attorneys and Gilead Power Corporation attorneys. Both tried to exclude his testimony—fearing his views would be shaped by his interest in a successful appeal of the Ostrander Point project rather than his training and august reputation as a physicist.
Although the panel eventually allowed Harrison to testify, he was constrained to address only specified areas in reply to previous testimony.
Harrison contradicted much of the evidence presented by MOE and Gilead’s witnesses whom he believes are insufficiently trained to ensure the industrial wind turbines are meeting current regulations.
He suggested that some of the comments made by the experts made “no sense at all” and then embarked on a detailed explanation about the properties of wind turbine noise—how the unique swoosh sound is made as the air is split by the blade and reunited on the other side in a disorganized fashion.
Harrison offered his view that the Ministry of Environment was, and remains, ill equipped and lacks the expertise to monitor and measure noise from industrial wind turbines. He points to audits conducted by the MOE officials, initiated as a result of complaints by nearby residents.
He says the MOE won’t release the data to him—only their findings. But at least two of these residents have gained access to the data and provided it to Harrison for his analysis.
In one of the cases the turbines were clearly and consistently louder than the regulations permitted. In the second case the field office utterly botched the analysis, deducting the regulated limit from the findings, then using the remainder to measure against the regulations.
Harrison just shook his head.
DO NO HARM
Then it was Dr. Robert McMurtry’s turn on the stand. Most of the near capacity crowd at Sophiasburgh Hall had come to hear the physician, policy maker and government advisor.
He was low key but authoritative. He is wellexperienced in this manner of forum.
In Chatham Kent a couple of years ago, he persuaded the environmental review tribunal hearing in that appeal, that industrial wind turbines indeed cause harm to nearby residents. But that panel approved the project anyway because no sick people were produced at the hearing.
In Prince Edward County the appellants have addressed that omission, as several witnesses have testified to the harm the industrial wind forms have inflicted upon their health.
Dr. McMurtry has become a bit of an authority on the effect of wind turbines on the health of humans. In 2011 he hosted a symposium bringing many of the brightest minds studying the issue to speak and share information in Picton.
The counsel for Gilead attempted to use McMurtry’s growing prominence in the field as well as his extensive research and experience talking to people afflicted by wind turbines against him—seeking to characterize the doctor as an outlier among his colleagues.
“Are you the only physician in Canada with this knowledge?” prodded Darrel Cruz, one of several Mc- Carthy Tetrault lawyers working to ensure the tribunal doesn’t overturn the approval of the project. “Do you agree with me that industrial wind turbine syndrome is not a clinically recognized diagnosis?”
Dr. McMurtry said he did not agree.
“I have diagnosed people who, more likely than not, have been made sick by wind turbines,” said Mc- Murtry.
Before he explained why he qualifies his diagnosis with “more likely than not, he pointed out that alone is a sufficient basis for action—and certainly enough reason to seek more study and answers.
“It is widely accepted practice that when you have anecdotal reporting of symptoms worldwide, you should pay attention,” noted McMurtry.
He then began one of several attempts to explain for Cruz that, for him, the precise mechanism of how the turbines are making people sick is still an unknown. But that this gap in knowledge is enough of a reason to stop and understand what is making people sick— rather than continuing on, increasing the harm to the population, until that precise mechanism has been identified.
Cruz was frustrated in his attempts to corner Mc- Murtry. The doctor was far too able and experienced to be cornered by the clever lawyer
We will know only when the decision comes on July 10 if the sum of the arguments made since the snow was on the ground were enough to persuade the review panel to overturn the approval of Gilead’s wind energy factory on Ostrander Point.
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