A nest belonging to the endangered barn owl was found with an eggshell inside it next to a proposed site for wind turbines in Port Ryerse, an environmental hearing heard Tuesday.
The nest was located inside a sawmill where a pair of owls – they are on the endangered species list – had been spotted earlier, the Environmental Review Tribunal was told.
But because the bird has not been seen in the area for more than a year, the northern edge of the lakeside village has lost its official habitat status for the owl.
The one-year lapse means the company, Boralex, is no longer required to come up with a plan to create new habitat in the area for the owl before it can start building.
Boralex wants to construct four wind turbines 99.5 metres in height on farmland just north and east of the village.
Port Ryerse residents have strenuously opposed the project, warning it will ruin their quaint village and their health, and lead to declines in property values.
They are still trying to stop it and went to the tribunal in June where they argued against turbines on health grounds. The tribunal ruled against them.
On Tuesday, their lawyer, Graham Andrews of Toronto, was in front of the tribunal suggesting the project should be halted for environmental reasons – because of the damage it could do to the unique wildlife around the village, including turtles, bald eagles, and especially the barn owl.
The barn owl is so rare about one nest every five years is found in Ontario, testified Chris Risley, a biologist with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
Risley, who was involved in assessing Boralex’s application for special permission to build, said he had concerns the nesting site at the sawmill was only 18 metres from a road heavy trucks will use to get to the turbine sites during construction.
“One of the possible situations is a barn owl could be killed by hitting the turbine blades, and that was not considered,” Risely added.
The barn owl’s habitat, he said, includes a one-mile radius around a nesting site. In the case of Port Ryerse, the birds would be looking to “forage” for food in the surrounding grasslands, some of which, he noted, would be lost due to construction.
Under cross-examination by Jonathan Kahn, lawyer for Boralex, Risely acknowledged he is only one of about half a dozen biologists in the ministry who were involved in the Port Ryerse case.
Earlier on Tuesday, Port Ryerse resident Suzanne Andrews testified and expressed concern about the safety of bald eagles in the area that will now have to fly past “monoliths” on their way from their nests to the lake.
Tribunal chair Justin Duncan will hand down his decision by Dec. 15.
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