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Turtles vs Turbines ERT – more time may be needed

The first day of a three-day Environmental Review Tribunal to consider plans to mitigate destruction of habitat and loss of Blandings turtles heard more time will likely be necessary.

The Prince Edward County Field Naturalists (PECFN) is again facing industrial wind turbine developer Gilead Power Corporation continuing its case for nine industrial wind turbines at Ostrander Point, on the southern shore of Prince Edward County.

More than 100 spectators were in attendance at Wednesday morning at the Demorestville Town Hall.

The Ontario Court of Appel in April reversed a lower court ruling and reinstated the finding of the 2013 Environmental Review Tribunal that “serious and irreversible harm” to threatened Blandings Turtles will occur if the project operates as approved. The court determined a return to the Environmental Review Tribunal to allow Gilead the opportunity to bring “new evidence” about gates on the access roads.

The 2013 ERT was held over 40 days, had 185 exhibits and testimony of 31 expert witnesses.

“It is the position of the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists is that the tribunal makes the same findings as it did at the last hearing and that the permit be revoked,” said Eric Gillespie, lawyer for the PECFN said in opening remarks to the tribunal’s two-person panel, lawyers Robert Wright and Heather Gibbs, who presided over the 2013 ERT.

Doug Hamilton, counsel for Gilead, said improvements to monitoring, a plan addressing the issues, poaching and predators should allow the project to move forward.

Gillespie noted communication between the lawyers indicated there would not be enough time for the expert witnesses scheduled to be completed thoroughly in three days allotted.

He noted there was discussion that closing submissions could be completed in writing but added that public interest in the County is high and since the White Pines Project has been approved and appealed and now moving toward ERT this month, “this decision could impact on that and I’m acting for APPEC (Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County) in that matter so we see overlap.”

Gillespie expected Wednesday’s testimony from Dr. Frederic Beaudry, of Alfred University, New York, to last the whole day. Thursday’s witness, Kori Gunson, who is an expert on road ecology, was expected to take most of Thursday.

Ministry of Environment and Climate Change lawyer Sylvia Davis and co-council Sarah Kromkamp noted she was calling on testimony from ministry of natural resources and forestry employees Joe Crowley and Karen Bellamy. Gilead’s counsel is calling on biologist expert Shawn Taylor, and Gilead company president Mike Lord.

A decision on extending the hearing will be considered. Start time has been moved to 9 a.m.

Dr. Beaudry, considered one of the top experts in the world on the Blandings turtles, said he was pleased with movement forward by Gilead Power in its efforts but said there was little indication, or evidence, proposals would mitigate destruction of habitat, or save the turtles.

The plan to stop construction when the turtles are most active – May 1 to Oct. 15 – Beaudry noted would reduce negative effects but doesn’t allow for climate change affecting the shoulder seasons of both dates when the turtles may still be active.

“Plans to create artificial nesting sites as a mitigation method are not proven and are unlikely to work,” he said, explaining with examples and how they work with the turtles’ habits.

“Many times the female turtles will cross areas suitable for nesting and will go past multiple opportunities in favour of kilometres away,” he said. “So providing nests closer would be appropriate if it worked, but I see no, or have been shown no evidence it has worked in the past.”

Evidence that is to be shared by the ministry experts, he said, involves a different kind of turtle in a different habitat.

“There is a very different biology between the turtles. They look the same but the species is very different,” said Beaudry.

He noted installation of gates is the only measure that will directly reduce mortality by decreasing the volume of traffic, as “those who do drive for work and with training will adjust to a certain extend but I doubt that care will last for long” and gates won’t stop four-wheeler traffic.

Beaudry said that despite work to improve and enhance a site, “the fact is it may look like a Blandings turtle habitat, but that doesn’t mean it is a Blandings turtle habitat. I have yet to see any evidence that anyone, anywhere, has restored a Blandings turtle habitat… I have seen projects that look like nice, but we can’t interview the turtles. I can’t call it good because it looks good. It’s a shortcut we should not take.”