The globally endangered Blanding’s turtle is being touted as the hero that saved Prince Edward County’s south shore from the installation of industrial wind turbines.
The Environmental Review Tribunal decision July 3 said the nine turbine, 22.5 megawatt project will cause serious and irreversible harm to Blanding’s turtle at Ostrander Point.
The province approved what would have been the first wind farm entirely on Crown land just days before Christmas. The Prince Edward County Field Naturalists (PECFN) and the Association to Protect Prince Edward County (APPEC) launched their appeals January 4.
This is the first time the tribunal has acknowledged wind farms can cause irreversible damage to wildlife.
“Finally, a balance has been struck between the demands for green energy and conserving our environment,” says Myrna Wood, PECFN president. “Renewable energy, to be truly green, must not destroy wildlife.”
“The legal test on renewable energy appeals is rigorous and difficult to meet but our lawyers Eric Gillespie and Natalie Smith worked hard with our witnesses to present the scientific evidence that the tribunal panel has accepted.
“It realized that this was the wrong place for development of any kind. It understood the witnesses’ evidence that the construction of the project and roads would cause serious harm to the habitat of many species and went one step further to decide that the harm to the Endangered Blanding’s Turtle would be irreversible.”
Naturalists also argued the turbines would harm birds, bats, monarch butterflies and the alvar environment. The tribunal found turbines might cause damage in those areas, but ruled there was no proof any harm would be irreversible.
The tribunal dismissed the case from APPEC “because no causal link has been established between wind turbines and human heath effects at the 550m setback distance required under this renewable energy approval.”
Chair Henri Garand, said APPEC is baffled by the decision on human health and is considering an appeal to the Ontario Divisional Court.
“The panel accepted key findings in the Erickson ERT decision (2011) that turbines can cause serious harm and some people will experience symptoms arising from “extreme annoyance.” It also found “credible” the testimony of 11 rural Ontario residents who reported their ill health following the start of operations by six different wind projects. Finally, it heard that these reports meet Dr. Robert McMurtry’s case definition for adverse health effects in the environs of industrial wind turbines.
“Yet the ERT panel declined to connect the health evidence with expert opinion. Instead, it argued that medical diagnoses and noise studies are required. These demands far exceed the legal test that wind victims are “more likely than not” suffering “serious harm to health” from wind turbines.”
“The decision suggests that the ERT process is fundamentally flawed,” said APPEC president Gord Gibbins. “The Ministry of Environment has no scientific basis for its 550-m residential setbacks. The Ministry of Health has never conducted any health studies on wind turbines. Yet, under the Liberal government’s Green Energy Act, appellants to the ERT are expected to assume the burden of proof when challenging projects, just as if they were taking on the tobacco industry.”
Gilead Power has said the company is “reviewing the decision, and assessing the options.”
There is a 30-day appeal window the decision can be appealed in a divisional court, based on any legal errors or omissions in the decision.
Wood says that if an appeal of the decision is brought by Gilead or the Ministry of Environment, PECFN and its legal counsel is prepared to respond, but continues to seek support. They have raised $63,902 of the $125,000 necessary to pay for the Ostrander Point appeal. Donations may be sent to: Ostrander Point Appel Fund, 59 King St., Unit 2, Picton, ON, K0K 2T0.
The decision should not affect wpd’s White Pines 29-turbine project in South Marysburgh, and Athol.
“wpd’s White Pines project is located on privately owned land and is not open to the public,” says Kevin Surette, wpd communications manager.
“The decision to overturn the approval was based on serious and irreversible harm to Blanding’s turtle – a endangered species found in the area. The Tribunal found that the mitigating measures proposed to protect the turtle would not be adequate based on the public nature of the Ostrander Point Crown Land Block, and that the increased traffic on newly build access roads would cause an unacceptable increase in mortality, poaching and predation. The land is regularly used by ATV enthusiasts, hunters, hikers, birders and partiers.
“The Tribunal made seven findings in the Ostrander Point appeal, six of which dismissed the claims made by the appellants. Although evidence was presented and testimony given by individuals who assert that existing wind projects near their homes are affecting their health, the tribunal concluded that there was no evidence which linked those health issues to the wind turbines. The Tribunal also dismissed the claims that wind turbines would seriously harm birds, bats or alvar – even within an IBA.”
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