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Late influx of witness statements delays tribunal

STELLA – A late influx of witness statements from Amherst Island residents had lawyers appearing before the Environmental Review Tribunal manoeuvring to find a way to incorporate them into this week’s hearings.

On the weekend, 14 more factual witness statements were submitted by lawyers representing the Association to Protect Amherst Island. They joined 30 other statements already filed.

Many of the statements include descriptions of sightings of the endangered Blanding’s turtle.

Additional expert witness statements and disclosure from the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change were also submitted.

“We haven’t even had the chance to read these,” association lawyer Eric Gillespie said.

The tribunal had scheduled three days of hearings on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday to deal with the resident witnesses, with the first residents to testify Tuesday morning.

The delay caused by the added witness statements, however, meant no residents took the stand Tuesday. Instead, Gillespie and Arlen Sternberg, a lawyer for Windlectric Inc., agreed that the tribunal would start an hour earlier on Wednesday and Friday to make up the lost time.

What was not agreed upon was the exact procedure for questioning and cross-examining so many witnesses in the shorter time frame.

Tribunal member Robert Wright encouraged both sides to figure out a way to both speed up the process and allow the witnesses to testify.

“I don’t want to short-change any of the witnesses,” Wright said.

Algonquin Power’s subsidiary Windlectric Inc. received conditional approval from the Ontario government in late August to build about 26 wind turbines on the island.

Lawyers for the company tried unsuccessfully last week to have the residents’ witness statements about Blanding’s turtle sightings thrown out. The company’s lawyers are expected to question the authenticity of the citizens’ statements about seeing the turtles on the island.

A 2013 species at risk report prepared for Windlectric by Stantec Consulting Ltd. stated there are no Blanding’s turtles on Amherst Island.

The additional 14 factual witness statements brings to 44 the number of residents of the island – which has a population of about 400 – who are expected to provide testimony at the hearing.

“One in 10 residents of the island will be a witness at this hearing,” Gillespie said.

When added to the expert witness testimony, the Amherst Island tribunal is expected to be the largest such hearing since the process was established.

The hearing is to continue Wednesday morning at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church.