Questions over a witness’s credibility and details that would see the release of confidential information drew a number of objections during the second day of an Environmental Review Tribunal hearing in Wainfleet Wednesday.
Scott Stoll, of the firm Aird & Berlis LLP, was persistent in his cross-examination of Skydive Burnaby owner Mike Pitt, the first witness to testify at the hearing scheduled for 14 days.
As persistent as Stoll was in questioning Pitt’s credibility, lawyer Eric Gillespie, representing Pitt and Skydive Burnaby, was quick to object when questions would have put financial information into the public record.
Relevancy in relation to the hearing around some questions was also grounds for some of the lawyer’s objections.
The hearing was convened after Skydive Burnaby owners Mike and Tara Pitt filed an appeal against Wainfleet Wind Energy’s project on Station Rd., which will see two wind turbines installed on land owned by the Loeffen family.
The Loeffens have partnered with Rankin Construction on the project, which will also see three more wind turbines installed to the northwest of Station Rd., off of Concession 1 in Wainfleet.
A stay was ordered on the two turbines on Station Rd. in late 2013, and construction halted until the hearing is completed.
Before Stoll’s cross-examination, Gillespie questioned Pitt for nearly an hour to show he was an expert in the areas of parachuting, parachute instruction, and plane piloting.
Tribunal chair Dirk VanderBent heard the Pitts purchased Skydive Burnaby in 1999, which had been known as the St. Catharines Parachute Club, and that Pitt has 3,500 jumps under his belt and holds a D licence under the Canadian Sport Parachuting Association.
“It’s the highest licence you can get with the CSPA … it’s an expert licence,” Pitt said. “The CSPA is the governing body of parachuting in Canada and it issues licences and ratings.”
In addition to holding a D licence, Pitt also has ratings for rigging, free fall instruction and skydive school examiner.
VanderBent asked if a person needed a licence to skydive in Canada.
Pitt said yes, and added that anyone who wanted to jump from Skydive Burnaby, which sees 10,000 jumps a year, would have to show their licence, logbook of jumps and proficiency rating.
The tribunal heard there are 1,000 aircraft movements a year at the Burnaby Rd. skydive centre, with five full time staff and up to 30 part time staff from April to October, the jump season.
With two 93 metre high wind turbines 1.5 kilometres west of the facility, operations could be jeopardized due to threat those turbines represent, Pitt said.
“It’s going to make things unsafe for jumpers. It’s not a matter if there will be a collision, but when it’s going to happen,” he said, adding turbulence from the blades could also be an issue.
Fundraising events for charities and national event competition that bring skydivers in from across the country could be put at risk if the turbines go up, Pitt said. Most of the jumps at the facility see skydivers jumping between 2.5 and 3 kilometres, and sometimes up to five kilometres, west of the drop zone, putting them in a path that would take them right over the turbines.
If there was a parachute malfunction, Pitt said skydivers could be much lower in the sky and end up hitting a turbine or one of the blades.
After Gillespie was done questioning his client, Stoll took over and asked if Pitt got paid for piloting for Skydive Burnaby.
“It’s my sole source of income,” Pitt said in response.
Stoll then started to question Pitt about a plane – owned by his wife through a different company – used at the facility.
The plane, said Pitt, was being leased out in Florida to pay it off.
The issue of a second skydive facility owned by the Pitts on the island of St. Kitts was brought up by Stoll.
He questioned whether that facility was included in information that was part of the stay ordered against Wainfleet Wind Energy.
Gillespie objected to the question, saying it was improper to ask in relation to the hearing and could not the relevance.
Stoll said the question was to test the credibility of the witness.
“He said his sole income is Skydive Burnaby … and now he has a second operation providing income that was not disclosed,” Stoll said.
Pitt responded that he doesn’t receive a paycheque from Skydive St. Kitts.
“You make no money from it?” Stoll asked.
Gillespie objected to that question, and said it could reveal confidential financial information.
Pitt answered the question and said the only thing the company in St. Kitts pays for is a motel room when he is on the island.
Stoll asked if Pitt was a commercial pilot in 2010, to which Pitt answered no.
“I was a skydive instructor, ran the drop zone and worked in a factory,” Pitt said.
Stoll said Pitt was terminated from the factory job and started to ask about it, but Gillespie objected once again and VanderBent told the lawyer to move on from the line of questioning
Asked if would use employees who had a different view than that of himself and his wife, Pitt said those in his employ can make their own decisions.
Stoll went on to ask questions about fatalities at Skydive Burnaby, there have been none since the Pitts took over in 1991, and he spent time on asking about flight operations and parachuting before wrapping up.
Ministry of Environment lawyer Nadine Harrie asked Pitt if he was headed to Florida to work for the winter.
“I’m going down to get the airplane and flying it to St. Kitts and will be there until the end of April,” he said.
She asked if the Pitts kept track of people that land outside the drop zone and learned they didn’t.
“But landing out is one of the most dangerous things for a skydiver … it’s usually a premature brake release, someone coming in to low or something went wrong,” said Pitt
Pitt also said turbulence from the blades, which can’t be seen, could also cause problems.
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