PONTYPOOL –The lawyer acting for the appellants at a hearing opposing the controversial Sumac Ridge wind turbine project in Manvers Township ruffled a bird expert’s feathers during his cross examination on Friday (Dec. 12).
Paul Kerlinger is an expert on the effect of wind turbines on birds and their habitat. He was appearing via video link on behalf of wpd Canada, who received provincial approval last December to build five industrial wind turbines in the Bethany area.
But, the question of how industrial wind turbines could affect bird species was never answered, even after tough questioning from Eric Gillespie.
The Environmental Review Tribunal is an independent body conducting the hearing in Pontypool after several groups opposed to industrial wind turbines appealed the Ministry of Environment (MOE) granting approval the approval to wpd Canada.
Sumac Ridge involves the building five industrial wind turbines (two of them on the Oak Ridges Moraine), which met fierce opposition from residents.
Citizen group Manvers Wind Concerns, Cransley Farm Homes and the Buddhist Association of Canada’s Cham Shan Temple launched the appeal.
The Temple is a multi-million dollar project that would build four Temples that mirror those in China, allowing spiritual and meditational pilgrimages.
The appellants claim industrial wind turbines, which are about 500 feet tall, will have a significant and negative impact on the environment, human health and the flora and fauna of the area. The Buddhists purchased several properties 20 years ago with the specific intent of one day building the Cham Shan Temple.
Heather Gibbs is vice-chair of the Tribunal. The Director for the MOE is represented by Andrew Weretelnyk, wpd Canada by John Richardson and Mr. Gillespie is representing the appellants.
The Province has said it will call no witnesses at the hearing.
On Friday, the hearing was winding down with testimony from two witnesses for wpd Canada; one is Dr. Kerlinger and the other is Ronald Donaldson, a geologist and hydro-geologist. Both men are qualified as expert witnesses.
Dr. Kerlinger told wpd Canada’s counsel he had nothing to add to the testimony recorded in his witness statement.
But, when it was Mr. Gillespie’s turn, the lawyer hammered at Dr. Kerlinger, getting him to admit he had never visited the proposed site.
The focus of his questioning was on grassland bird species, particularly the eastern meadowlark and the bobolink, which are already on the list of Ontario’s threatened species and known to be in the Sumac Ridge project area.
Mr. Gillespie asked whether wind turbines would displace the birds, pointing to a new report completed this year. But, Dr. Kerlinger said he had not reviewed that report, saying it was “brand new research.”
Mr. Gillespie turned to a 2005 study done by the municipality of Aurora on breeding bird species on the Oak Ridges Moraine. That study urged the province to enact legislation to protect declining species.
Dr. Kerlinger said he started working on his witness statement in 2013 and refused to comment without reading the study.
He admitted the words “Oak Ridges Moraine” do not appear anywhere in his witness statement.
Mr. Gillespie pointed out the study revealed the “greatest concern on the Moraine is grassland and open-country birds, as this group exhibits the greatest decline in Ontario.”
He asked Dr. Kerlinger for his opinions on the study’s findings.
But, the witness refused to commit to answering questions on material he had not read. He said the study “is 40 pages long” and encompassed the entire Moraine, which is “hundreds of square kilometers” in size.
“I was tasked with looking at only one area,” he said.
As the scientist continued to evade the questions, Mr. Gillespie ran out of patience.
“You don’t know enough about the Oak Ridges Moraine to agree or disagree with any of these statements,” he said.
He pointed out that in order to define legislation protecting the birds, and determine what could have a negative impact on them, it is necessary to know where they nest. “We need to know where the grassland and farmland is on the Moraine.”
“That is beyond my expertise,” said Dr. Kerlinger. “I would need more information.”
“So, you can’t help this Tribunal at all on this issue,” said Mr. Gillespie. “I’ve given you every opportunity to say whatever you want.”
“I’ve given my answer,” the scientist responded.
“You’re coming here as an expert,” Mr. Gillespie shot back. “You’re supposed to know something about this topic.”
“You want me to talk about the entire Oak Ridges Moraine; I’m talking about one project site,” Dr. Kerlinger responded.
Mr. Gillespie noted the scientist has testified in two other wind turbine project appeals.
“Did you read the sections on the [Tribunal’s] decision on your evidence?” he asked, noting that even if he had not read the entire decisions, he wanted to know if Dr. Kerlinger had read the Chair’s comments on his evidence at those hearings.
Dr. Kerlinger did not admit to having done so, saying only, “it’s been several months.”
Mr. Donaldson, testifying as a hyrdo-geological expert, said he had done the examination of the site to determine the aquifers in the area. His job was to determine of the site was a high-vulnerability for the underground aquifers and which was low vulnerability. He said one third of the site was high-vulnerability.
Mr. Donaldson described the documentation upon which he based his findings, but agreed with Mr. Gillespie that there is other documentation about the water sources in the area that he had not seen. He clarified that while he was hired for a specific purpose, he was not privy to any correspondence between wpd Canada and the MOE.
Mr. Gillespie questioned him closely about the chemicals used to clean wind turbines and whether or not they would be stored on-site. Mr. Donaldson said he did not know what the Province had required of wpd Canada in issuing its approval; only that he had been asked to determine what risk cleaning chemicals could pose.
But, he noted he was never given a list of what chemicals the company planned to use. Rather, he researched companies that clean wind turbines, learning they primarily use household soaps and detergents. He also confirmed that “none of the documents I read have indicated there would be (on-site) storage.”
Mr. Donaldson also agreed with Mr. Gillespie that his witness statement did not contain anything that specifically relates to the Moraine.
Next week, the appellants will call several witnesses back, after which the hearing will conclude. The Chair has asked that final submissions for both sides be completed by Jan. 7.
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