A Ministry of Environment review panel has blown down a blast of opposition to a 58-megawatt wind farm in the Montreal River area.
The decision, dated Wednesday, finds seasonal resident James Fata and 2401339 Ontario Ltd., did not present enough evidence proving the 36-turbine wind farm on Bow Lake would harm human health or impact the operation of an Environment Canada weather radar station at Montreal River.
“The director argues that, without the assessment and support of a qualified expert, Mr. Fata’s allegations remain unfounded,” the decision reads. “The director submits that the appellant ‘offered no credible evidence to show that annoyance, whether from visual or noise impacts, is an agent of disease as alleged. The appellant put forth no evidence as to the level of visibility or noise that may be directly or indirectly associated with annoyance, much less evidence of a casual link to adverse health effects.”
The tribunal also saw no evidence the wind farm would increase fire risk.
Fata uses lease-hold property in the area of the project as a hunting camp. He argued human health would suffer for several reasons including sound vibrations, electromagnetic fields, low frequency sound, property access and fire risk.
“All of the participants and presenters testified to their sincere and significant concerns that the project will result in negative health impacts to them and to their community,” the decision reads. Adventurer Joanie McGuffin told the tribunal the wind farm would “change forever the experience of the imagery that informs our brains about this natural landscape.” She argued the landscape featured in works by the Group of Seven should be protected.
Amy Zuccato, a Prince Township councillor, said the construction phase of the wind farm in her community “had more significant impact than was anticipated” on animals such as bats and turtles. She also said there were major problems draining area wetlands for dust suppression on turbine access roads.
Dr. Robert McCunney, speaking on behalf of project partners BluEarth Renewables and Batchewana First Nation, said the venture will not cause serious harm to human health.
Fata’s appeal was dismissed.
2401339 Ontario Ltd., argued the 36 turbines would cause serious harm to animals, especially birds and bats, and would pose a risk to humans by interfering with the operation of the weather radar station in Montreal River.
Two categories of bat species use the project area. Migratory bats pass through during migration season and may roost in the Bow Lake area during the summer.
Hibernating bats, including the endangered little brown bat, have summer roosting locations in the area.
The tribunal saw no evidence of harm to bat habitat or danger of “serious and irreversible harm” to migratory bats.
Two experts who spoke during the hearing agreed it’s not known how many little brown bats live in the area 80 kilometres north of Sault Ste. Marie. It’s estimated there could be one or two bat maternity colonies. Each would have about 70 bats.
About 40% of the bats killed at Prince Wind Farm in 2008 were little brown bats. The tribunal found the collision mortality rate at that farm “has considerable weight” because of its proximity to Bow Lake, about 65 kilometres, and built in a similar landscape near Lake Superior.
“The little brown bat is killed in wind turbine collisions despite the fact that it forages below the blade-swept area and that it is a reasonable conclusion that little brown fatalities may be higher in the landscape in which the Bow Lake project is sited, than the current provincial or continental averages” the decision said.
The tribunal wants bat mortality to be monitored at a minimum of 12 turbines for at least three years after the turbines go up. If 10 bats per turbine die per year, steps that must be taken include feathering the turbine blades between sunset and sunrise from July 15 to Sept. 30 during the project’s lifespan.
A technical advisory committee watching bat deaths includes a representative of the project operator, Ministry of Natural Resources biologist and independent bat expert.
No evidence was found that the wind farm would cause serious harm to birds because of loss of habitat.
“The tribunal finds that it was not established that there are any geographic features on the project site or in the area that would cause a ‘funnelling’ of migratory birds that such a high number could be expected to collide with wind turbines,” the decision said.
Two experts said the Bow Lake area is not suitable for foraging or nesting by Peregrine falcons. Nesting sites may be in the vicinity.
“The evidence from other wind projects shows that peregrine falcons are at a very low risk of colliding with wind turbines,” the decision said.
Only two peregrine falcons are known to have died at all of the wind farms in North America.
The site is the closest wind farm erected near a weather radar station studied by Environment Canada. The federal agency first expressed its interest about the close distance in September 2009. Three years later, when Environment Canada submitted an official concern, it found the Bow Lake project and weather station could not co-exist “without a significant impact on users of weather information.”
Conditions have since been developed. An exceptional weather event protocol is being negotiated. It would allow Environment Canada to ask for a temporary suspension of the wind farm “during weather events in which human life and property are significantly at risk.”
Low elevation scans from the weather station are expected to be affected by the turbines “in the absence of any mitigation.” Accurate forecasts are still anticipated with the accommodations.
“The director states that the radar imagery and forecasts that pilots depend on will not be impacted by the project, even without mitigation measures. Forecasting would be impacted only in respect of radar data at ground level for thunderstorms occurring directly over the project and snow squalls occurring within a narrow wedge approximately 40 kilometres southeast of the project,” the decision said.
Motorists will still get “timely and accurate” forecasts of road conditions.
The appeal by Fata and 2401339 Ontario Ltd., was field on Dec. 31, 2013, about two weeks after Ministry of Environment approved the project.
The hearing ran 10 days in March at City Centre Travelodge and Algoma’s Water Tower Inn in Sault Ste. Marie.
Panel chair is Heather Gibbs. Member is Maureen Carter-Whitney.
The decision can be read online at https://www.ert.gov.on.ca/english/decisions/index.htm