STELLA – After years of legal manoeuvres, expert testimony and government and corporate announcements, the people who will be most affected by a proposed wind energy project on Amherst Island finally had their chance to speak.
About 44 factual witnesses are expected to testify at the hearing, both in opposition to and in favour of the project at the ongoing Environmental Review Tribunal hearings.
The hearing comes after the Association to Protect Amherst Island appealed an August decision by the Ontario government that gave the project conditional approval.
The Algonquin Power subsidiary Windlectric Inc. received conditional approval from the Ontario government to build approximately 26 wind turbines on the island.
Association member Sherri Jensen was the first factual witness called by the association and she said she documented sightings of the threatened Blanding’s turtle in 2014 and 2015.
Jensen testified about three Blanding’s turtle sightings – including two within 200 metres and 45 minutes of each other – on the Emerald 40 Foot Road near the west end of the island in June 2014.
Jensen’s fourth sighting was on Front Road east of Stella in June 2015.
The markings and shape of the shell make the Blanding’s turtle easy to recognize, said Jensen, who moved to the island on a part-time basis in 2011 and has lived there full time since retiring from the financial sector in Toronto in 2013.
“It’s that yellow colour on the neck, it’s unmistakable,” said Jensen, who added she has been an avid birder before turning her attention to the turtles and snakes on the island.
In addition to testifying about four Blanding’s turtle sightings of her own, Jensen said she was involved in filing about 38 Blanding’s turtle sightings by other island residents to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources’ National Heritage Information Centre.
In a lengthy cross-examination, Arlen Sternberg, a lawyer for Windlectric Inc., questioned Jensen about the process and motivation for documenting her turtle sightings and those by other people.
Of the two Blanding’s turtle sightings on the same day, Sternberg asked Jensen if they could have been the same turtle she saw twice.
“Was this likely the same turtle you saw 40 minutes apart?” Sternberg asked.
Jensen said she could not be sure it wasn’t.
“I’m not the expert,” she said.
In June 2013, APAI held a session to instruct island residents about how to identify and document different species on the island. When asked if she was at that event, Jensen said she did not remember taking part.
Sternberg asked Jensen if the sightings were gathered specifically for the association’s campaign against the wind turbine project. Jensen said she was not asked by anyone in the association to collect and file the sightings.
“This is about nature,” she said, adding that she would have filed them anyway.
Sternberg then asked Jensen about emails from association members asking for her information to create a map of turtle sightings in the island that was to be used in the organization’s opposition effort.
Under questioning, Jensen said she made changes to the draft version of the map, moving the locations of some of the sightings according to GPS and address information she had gathered.
Along with details of the sightings, Jensen emailed any photographs of the Blanding’s turtles that she or other islanders took to the National Heritage Information Centre, even though photographs are not asked for by the agency.
Tribunal member Robert Wright asked her why she sent photographs, to which she replied they were provided as confirmation.
The hearing is to resume at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church Thursday morning with expert testimony and again on Friday with more factual witness testimony.
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