A naturalists’ group will appeal a judgment that allows a wind farm to proceed in the habitat of an endangered turtle at Ostrander Point in Prince Edward County.
But the appeal could become a race against time, as the company developing the wind farm says it plans to start work on the project as soon as weather permits.
The Prince Edward County Field Naturalists are seeking leave to appeal a divisional court decision allowing Gilead Power to proceed with its wind farm.
Eric Gillespie, lawyer for the group, said he has filed a notice with Ontario Court of Appeal.
But a more immediate battle may loom, as Gilead Power says it plans to start work right away with construction of its nine-turbine project – an action the naturalists vow to fight.
“If we can do it, we will,” Gilead vice president Mike Lord said in an interview.
The question mark is the weather. The severe winter weather will hamper work for the moment, and activity on the site is also restricted between May 1 and Nov. 1 because of the area’s sensitive ecology.
As well as being home to Blanding’s turtle, the area is a bird and bat migration route, and has rare vegetation.
An environmental tribunal had originally halted the wind project, ruling that it would endanger Blanding’s turtle, a species listed as threatened.
But a divisional court panel struck down the tribunal’s ruling last month.
The court reinstated the project’s renewable energy approval, or REA.
“Because the REA has been reinstated, we are in a position to be able to move towards construction,” Lord said. “I don’t want to leave people with the impression that we’re not going to do anything out there.”
“We have advised Mr. Gillespie that we plan on moving forward with construction.”
The weather may slow things down, but Lord said the first task would be to remove some vegetation from the site. That would allow crews to clear the site of unexploded weaponry, as the area was once used as a military training range.
The company will have to build access roads – an especially contentious issue because the naturalists have argued that increased traffic by both vehicles and humans could threaten wildlife.
Gillespie said the idea that Gilead would start work before the appeal process has worked its way through the courts is “deeply disturbing to many people across Ontario.”
“It looks like our client is going to be put in the position of having to go to court to ask the court to maintain the status quo while the appeal process is moving forward,” he said.
Gillespie said he’s been given instructions to ask the court to halt any activity on the site until the appeal is decided. Gilead had previously held back from work on the site when the environmental tribunal was considering the project, he said.
The appeal itself will be based on several grounds. Gillespie said the court showed “very little deference” to the judgment of the environmental tribunal.
“They are there specifically because they have developed specialized expertise in this area,” Gillespie said.
The court also gave little weight to expert evidence given on how the project would affect turtles, he said.
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