Ontario’s Environment Ministry is investigating after protected trees were recently cut down during land development for Suncor and NextEra’s Cedar Point wind farm in Lambton County.
Strips of protected woods, together measuring 3,000 square metres, were levelled near Fuller Road and Proof Line in Lambton Shores last month, said Kate Jordan, a ministry spokesperson.
That violates one of the conditions of Suncor’s environmental approval for the project, being built in Lambton Shores, Plympton-Wyoming and Warwick Township.
“We have reminded the company that it must make sure that all of its contractors that are operating on its behalf do follow the requirements of the ministry approval,” said Jordan.
“We have also referred the incident to our investigations and enforcement branch.”
Ministry officials are talking to witnesses, the company, and others – gathering evidence to see if charges will be laid under the Water Resources Act, she said.
“Certainly it is something that we are taking seriously,” Jordan said.
Some of the woodlots impacted, listed as provincially significant wetlands under Suncor’s Natural Heritage Assessment – Environmental Impact Study, include rare red bark hickory trees, said Santo Giorno, with the We’re Against Industrial Turbines – Plympton-Wyoming (WAIT-PW) group that’s fought against wind turbines in the area.
“They cut a swath through one of the woodlots that had these trees on them,” he said of the developers, calling the action negligent.
“That’s what we’re upset about: that they just didn’t take the care.”
Removing the protected trees was a mistake, said Suncor spokesperson Jason Vaillant.
“Once we realized what had happened, we immediately launched an investigation to understand how this could take place,” he said, noting the company is working with the St. Clair Region Conservation Authority to mitigate the damage.
How exactly the error was made and how or if the company will have to make amends are part of ongoing investigations, he said.
“We want to stress that it was unintentional and we apologize for making the error,” he said, noting Suncor is overseeing all aspects of the project’s development and takes ownership for the mistake.
Construction is continuing as Suncor works with the conservation authority, Vaillant said.
It’s too early to estimate when the ministry’s investigation will wrap up, or what charges or penalties could be coming, Jordan said.
WAIT-PW, meanwhile, is suggesting that construction be halted until damage is assessed and rehabilitation measures are taken, that a fine be levied for the tree removal, and for Suncor to compensate landowners whose woodlots were damaged, Giorno said.
At a minimum, he said, he hopes Suncor will be tasked with restoring the wetlands.
“Whether it’s incompetence or whether it’s negligence, it doesn’t really matter,” said Giorno. “They need to fix the problems they’ve created.”
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