Three expert witnesses speaking in favour of the proposed Gunn’s Hill wind farm appeared on the stand Tuesday, touching on environmental health science, ecology and public safety.
The Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) heard from each of the witness as it nears its end, with the final hearing on Thursday.
Dr. Christopher Ollson appeared on the stand on behalf of the proponent, appearing as an expert witness with expertise in environmental health science as it relates to wind farms.
Ollson addressed a number of concerns that have been brought forward, beginning with concerns about stray voltage.
“It isn’t something new,” Ollson said of stray voltage. “Of course farmers have been dealing with it for decades here in the province of Ontario, and in the unlikely event that stray voltage would occur as part of this project, it could be rectified and it could be fixed. It wouldn’t adversely affect people’s livestock or dairy cattle, etcetera.”
Ollson also had conclusions on other major concerns, sound and infrasound.
“What we have to be careful with, with these types of projects is that you’re not siting them too close to people’s homes, so that the sound’s too loud and they are not getting a good night’s sleep,” he said. “The conclusions we reached are that the 40 decibel sound level that’s required by the province of Ontario is acceptable and would not result in people coming sick.
“For infrasound and low frequency noise, they are certainly omitted from wind turbines, but they are at a level that is very similar to background levels that we are experiencing right here in this facility today,” Ollson added. “So although they’re present, they’re at a low enough level that they wouldn’t pose a health affect.”
One concern that has also been brought up by witnesses of the appellant was shadow flicker, a concern that Ollson said can certainly be a nuisance.
“It’s typically something that occurs, at most, for a half-hour maybe 40 minutes at any given time, a couple times a year,” he said. “What we see from it, although it can be a nuisance, is that it doesn’t actually cause health effects directly and we haven’t seen it pose indirect health affects on workers or operations around the world.”
The final concern brought before Ollson was that of livestock and the affect the turbines may have on them.
“There’s over 100,000 turbines around the world, primarily located on agricultural land near dairy herds or cattle, and we simply aren’t seeing reports of affects on those livestock,” Ollson said. “So we’re fairly confident that the project, if it were to move forward, won’t have effects on people’s livelihood and their operations.”
During his testimony, Ollson also summarized a comprehensive report conducted by Health Canada on wind turbines, which he said that although a small percentage of people (10 per cent of 1,200 of participants) may find them annoying, it does not lead to adverse health effects.
Ollson noted that the study found that the 10 per cent of people annoyed by the turbines were specifically annoyed by noise, blinking lights from the turbines, visual of the turbines and shadow flicker.
“There was a number of different reasons why around 10 per cent of people, or less, were finding they were annoyed as a result of the project,” he said. “So not just noise, it could’ve been looking at them themselves.”
David Charlton followed Ollson on the stand, appearing as an expert on ecological assessments, specifically in natural heritage and species at risk assessments.
During his testimony, Charlton said he came to the conclusion that there was no scientific rationale to imply that there would be serious harm to plant or animal life in the natural environment as a result of these turbines.
Charlton said he came to this conclusion based on a review of all the documentation and the definitions of serious and irreversible harm in the regulations.
“As I stated, there will be some death for some species from these things, just like there is with every human activity,” he said. “But that it’s not serious and irreversible.”
John Eacott – who appeared as a witness earlier for the appellant – and his concerns regarding the animal life on his property were brought up during Charlton’s testimony, which he said took very seriously.
“Like everyone, he has a right to be concerned about things going on around his property,” Charlton said. “But I couldn’t share his concern that there would be serious and irreversible harm.”
In his cross-examination, little brown bats that are said to be located at the proposed spot of turbine one were brought up. The little brown bat is an endangered species, but Charlton said that there will be measures put in place to deal with any mortalities caused to the bats.
He also stated that the bats weren’t in any danger around the turbines, as what is killing them is disease.
The other endangered species in the area of the proposed wind farm is grass land birds, Meadowlark and Bobolink, which also have measures put in place to deal with mortalities.
Dariush Faghani appeared on the stand to address public safety, examining the risk of shadow flicker, blade and tower failure, fires and ice throw, finding no problems in any of these categories.
“My assessment of the risks is that the risks are either very low or properly mitigated,” he said, “and in my opinion this project isn’t any different than other similar projects in Southern Ontario.”
The ERT will reconvene on Thurs. July 16, beginning at 9 a.m. for its final day.
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