STELLA – Approximately 30 residents of Amherst Island will get to testify before the Environmental Review Tribunal about the presence of endangered Blanding’s turtles on the island.
In a conference call Wednesday, the tribunal rejected an attempt from lawyers for Windlectric Inc. to have the witness statements excluded from the proceedings.
Instead, the residents are to be presented during three days of hearings on the island next week.
Algonquin Power’s subsidiary Windlectric Inc. is proposing to build about 26 wind turbines on the island. The company’s lawyers had argued that the citizens’ statements about seeing Blanding’s turtles on the island had been falsified and photographs of the turtles were staged.
“It is important for us and we are happy that the tribunal recognized that, in fairness, that if Windlectric is allowed, through their expert, to say that people on the island are lying to oppose the project, well, we’re really, really happy that the tribunal recognized the fairness, or unfairness of that procedure,” said Michele Le Lay, spokesperson for the Association to Protect Amherst Island.
In a 2013 species at risk report prepared for Windlectric, Stantec Consulting Ltd. stated there are no Blanding’s turtles on Amherst Island.
“Over the course of all field surveys, no observations of either Blanding’s turtle or eastern musk turtle were made,” the report stated.
The opposing sides are to talk by telephone on Thursday to decide how the 30 residents could testify in three days of hearings in a manner that is fair to both sides.
Evidence that Blanding’s turtles live on the island could be critical to the project’s opponents.
In 2013, a nine-turbine wind project at Ostrander Point was rejected by the ERT because of concern about its impact on Blanding’s turtles. In that case, the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists convinced the tribunal that the proposed project would pose serious risks to wildlife, specifically Blanding’s turtles, and rejected proposals to mitigate damage to turtles and their habitat.
“Mortality due to roads, brought by increased vehicle traffic, poachers and predators, directly in the habitat of Blanding’s turtle, a species that is globally endangered and threatened in Ontario, is serious and irreversible harm to Blanding’s turtle at Ostrander Point Crown Land Block,” the tribunal stated.
That ruling is currently being appealed by Port Perry-based Gilead Power and the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. The company has said it would propose ways to protect the turtle and its habitat.
LeLay said APAI instructed island residents about how to properly document sightings of Blanding’s turtles, including taking photographs and noting precise locations, time of year and weather conditions. The sightings were then submitted to the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources.
“Those 30 people did what the ministry said they should do,” Le Lay said.
The tribunal also ruled Wednesday that statements and testimony from four experts called by APAI could be included in next week’s hearings.
The tribunal stated that lawyers for Windlectric could object at the time to any new or unrelated evidence the experts introduce.
The hearings are to resume on Tuesday at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church.