As the hare discovered, never bet against a turtle.
An environmental review tribunal has given Blanding’s turtles – slow-moving, 27-centimetre reptiles – precedence over a proposed thicket of 135-metre wind turbines in Prince Edward County.
Concerned with the welfare of the rare turtle, the tribunal revoked approval for the wind farm.
The developer, Gilead Power, had been previously been granted approval by Ontario’s environment ministry to develop the wind farm on Ostrander Point, near the southeast tip of Prince Edward County.
But in a battle between green energy and green reptiles, turtle power prevailed.
The tribunal ruled that the wind farm would need roads to provide access to the turbines. That would open up the secluded area to vehicles, poachers and predators, causing “serious and irreversible harm” to the modest turtle, it found.
And that was enough to prompt the tribunal to revoke the approval for the nine-turbine development.
Myrna Wood, who helped bring the case before the tribunal, said the ruling has significance beyond the single development at Ostrander Point.
“It recognizes that renewable energy, to be truly green, must not destroy wildlife habitat,” she said in an interview Thursday.
As a result of the ruling, a wind farm proposed by Gilead Power cannot proceed on the site.
The turtle is listed as “threatened” by Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources. While the turtle has a long life – up to 75 years – it’s slow to reproduce, and it doesn’t breed until it’s 18 or 20 years old.
Wood says there’s no accurate count of how many of the reptiles live at Ostrander Point, which covers 324 hectares of land.
It’s not unspoiled wilderness: It was once used by Canada’s military as a bombing and strafing range, and for tank training. But the armed forces pulled out in the 1950s and the land has been left relatively undisturbed since then.
Turtles weren’t the only species of concern.
The Prince Edward County Field Naturalists, who objected to the development, also argued that the turbines would harm birds, bats, monarch butterflies and Ostrander Point’s alvar environment, characterized by a layer of thin soil over limestone or marble rock.
While the tribunal found that the turbines might cause damage in those areas, it ruled there was no proof any harm would be irreversible.
The wind farm would have had nine turbines, each 135 m tall, and would have produced a total of 22.5 megawatts.
Most wind farms are on private land in Ontario.
“This is the first wind project approval in Ontario that is proposed to be located entirely on Crown land,” the tribunal noted.
Eric Gillespie, the lawyer for the field naturalists, said the case succeeded despite having to meet a very stringent legal test showing serious and irreversible harm.
“Beyond that, we aren’t familiar with any situation in Ontario or Canada where an approval has been revoked,” he said.
Gilead Power was tight-lipped following the tribunal’s ruling, issuing only a brief statement: “We are reviewing the decision, and assessing the options going forward.”
There is a 30-day appeal window during which the decision can be appealed to the courts on matters of law.
Wood said opponents of the wind farm are still raising money to pay for the legal fight. She said the bill could reach $100,000, with about $65,000 raised so far.
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