Blessed are the small and humble, for they, it seems, shall halt wind turbines.
In the latest instalment of the epic machine vs. nature struggle being played out in Prince Edward County, environmental activists have scored another victory against construction of wind turbines they say will do serious and irreversible harm to already endangered species.
This time, in a ruling released Feb. 26, an Environmental Review Tribunal upheld an appeal against a turbine development it concluded posed serious risk to the Little Brown Bat and the Blanding’s Turtle.
Last July 16, the Ontario Environment Ministry issued an approval to White Pines Wind Inc. to install and operate a facility of 27 turbines on the pristine south shore of what locals call the County.
As it happens, a man named John Hirsch was scouting property in the County at the time for he and his wife to move to after wrapping up a career in customs consulting.
Hirsch had already become a board member of the Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory, one of the most important bird-banding stations in Canada. He suspected – even before eventually buying property in another part of the County – that the White Pines proposal would profoundly alter the south shore. He was also, owing to his career in customs administration, quite familiar with tribunals.
By July 29, Hirsch had filed an appeal – “it’s not all that complicated” – of the Environment Ministry’s White Pines approval, getting in a day ahead of the Alliance to Protect Prince Edward Country.
“It turns out a case gets named after whoever gets in first,” he told the Star on Monday. “That’s why the case is named Hirsch v Ontario.”
While Hirsch, 66, might have got top billing, the alliance “came to the rescue,” he said, with funding, legal representation and recruitment of expert witnesses.
During November and December, Hirsch, who now works part-time at Home Depot in Belleville, sat through 21 days of hearings, after which he wasn’t terribly confident of the outcome.
“Were we expecting this? No!” he said. “We didn’t think we were going to win.
“We didn’t get the birds. But we got the bats!”
The tribunal dismissed appeals on the grounds of human health risks. It also rejected appeals on the threat to birds, although it did call the project site “poorly chosen from a migratory bird perspective.”
The panel upheld the appeal because of the risk of serious and irreversible harm to the Little Brown Bat and Blanding’s Turtle.
Kevin Surette, a spokesman for White Pines, told the Star the company was reviewing the ruling and would have its experts investigate remedies that meet the tribunal’s concern. He said the application was made before it was known how seriously the Little Brown Bat population was declining.
Many bat species in Ontario are under pressure. The Little Brown Bat population has fallen drastically due to the disease known as “White-nose Syndrome.” A population of about six million has fallen by more than 90 per cent since 2010 and experts testified the species, already listed as endangered, could be “extirpated” by 2020 if the trend continued.
Hirsch said the tribunal found that because of its precarious status “even slight additional threat constitutes serious and irreversible harm to the species.”
The tribunal also found the turbine development, with its roads and site disruption, posed serious and irreversible harm to the breeding practices of the already threatened Blanding’s Turtle, which came to fame in putting the brakes on a similar project at nearby Ostrander’s Point.
The developer now has a chance to propose ways to mitigate the risks outlined by the tribunal. “That’s what we’re preparing for now,” Hirsch said.
But he suspects there might already be a conclusion to be drawn from the tribunal decisions and local devotion to the Little Brown Bat and Blanding’s Turtle.
“In Prince Edward County, everybody gets together on these issues,” Hirsch said. “Volunteerism is a remarkable thing here.
“Ms. (Kathleen) Wynne should understand that we’re never going to have wind turbines in Prince Edward County.”
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