Conservation is for sale in Niagara – if you have enough money to back you up.
When Niagara Region Wind Corporation first approached the local conservation authority about using one of its trails during the construction phase of its 77-turbine wind farm, the answer was no. But when big wind came back, with a lot more money blowing behind it, the answer changed.
The trail in question – the Gord Harry Trail – was gifted to the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority by the Township of Wainfleet, a municipality that is no friend to wind energy. Because of Wainfleet’s stance on wind turbines, the NPCA opted to consult with the municipality on the matter. Wainfleet’s answer, not surprisingly, was no. The township did, however, consent to permitting a crossing of the trail. That option would have seen the NPCA collect a measly $7,500.
Not willing to accept no for an answer, NRWC, which has since been taken over by Enercon, resubmitted its request, this time with a half a million dollars to sweeten the deal. They offered $20,000 a year over the 20-year duration of the project plus an additional $100,000 donation to the authority’s conservation fund. The request was now back on the table with a report from staff reminding board members of the authority’s need for cash: “As identified in the 2015 budget deliberations, total estimated capital costs for NPCA properties equalled approximately $5 million, however, only $1.3 million was budgeted in order to reduce the pressure on municipal levies. NPCA staff is focused on seeking alternative revenue streams in order to further reduce municipal levies and create sustainable recreational programs that promote conservation principles,” read the report.
Not sure how dozens of trucks tearing up a nature trail promotes conservation principles, but apparently money speaks louder than nature.
“From Wainfleet’s perspective, it flies in the face of what a conservation authority is all about,” Wainfleet mayor April Jeffs told me back in April when the report came forward. Her municipality passed a resolution shortly after reaffirming its objection.
Private land owners have had their projects denied or sent back to the drawing board because of environmental sensitivities, yet a multi-million dollar corporation can come back with a big chunk of change and get a big, fat stamp of approval. That flies in the face of conservation if you ask me.
What confounds the situation even more is the presence of an endangered species. A species that will most likely be affected when the concrete-carrying trucks come rolling in to pour foundations for the 135-metre towers.
The Ontario Court of Appeal recently upheld an earlier decision of the Environmental Review Tribunal that a nine-turbine project in Prince Edward County put the threatened Blanding’s Turtle at even more risk. It wasn’t the turbines themselves that posed a threat, but the process of erecting them. The network of roads which would need to be built to construct and maintain the turbines, which the turtles would inevitably try to cross, is what puts them at risk.
These turtles are present in the sites of 20 turbines, but there is no protection for turtles here. An Environmental Review Tribunal did not even consider the turtle during the hearing brought forward by Mothers Against Wind Turbines because it was “outside the scope of the appeal.” Apparently, Blanding’s turtles in Niagara aren’t as worthy of government protection as those in Ostrander Point.
“The NPCA’s ongoing commitment to land stewardship is reflected in the preservation and management of over 2,870 hectares of some of the most sensitive and unique natural areas in Niagara. These lands are held in public trust, allowing the people of Niagara to enjoy its distinctive natural heritage,” reads the conservation authority’s website.
Since the almighty dollar seems to trump public trust, maybe the site should say: we will hold these lands in trust, until the right offer comes along.
The same conservation authority that charged a Welland man for operating a harmless paintball business because it posed a threat to turtles and trees that weren’t even present – although that matter is still up for debate as Mark Barnfield heads to court once again in September – is granting permission for another business to do worse damage in an area where an endangered species is known to inhabit.
The NPCA touts its change of mind as win-win. The wind company wins, because it can now use the trail to build its turbines. The conservation authority wins because when the construction is complete the trail will not only be restored but improved and, they get a half a million dollars. While the NPCA and Enercon win, it’s the residents, both human and amphibian alike, who lose. Dollars are needed to conserve the environment, but those dollars shouldn’t come at the cost of what the NPCA was inevitably created to conserve. Wainfleet can’t be bought. West Lincoln can’t be bought. Apparently the NPCA can.
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