This week the Blanding’s turtle was again thrust into the spotlight. With its domed shell and distinctive yellow throat, the threatened species has become an emblem of rural resistance to industrial wind turbines.
Prince Edward County, an island community of sprawling farms and wineries, has rallied against a 29-turbine installation approved for its southern shore. Last week the Association to Protect Prince Edward County won a key battle in the fight against White Pines Wind Project.
The group has long maintained the installation, including access roads through environmentally sensitive habitat, would pose irreparable harm to wildlife. An Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) avowed the site was poorly chosen, though it did not find the threat to birds met its threshold test. What swayed the tribunal was evidence the project will cause “serious and irreversible harm” to Blanding’s turtles as well as little brown bats, whose population has slid 90 per cent in the past six years.
Blanding’s turtles live in wetlands and shallow lakes, often found crossing roads in pursuit of nesting sites. Death of a breeding-aged adult can significantly affect populations. Developer wpd Canada will now have an opportunity to submit a plan to mitigate these harms.
It’s not the turtle’s first brush with fame in Prince Edward County. It has played a starring role over a nine-turbine project approved at Ostrander Point. To aid construction, the developer was issued a permit to “kill, harm or harass” wildlife.
An ERT revoked Gilead Power’s approval in 2013, citing “mortality due to roads, brought by vehicle traffic, poachers and predators, directly in the habitat of Blanding’s turtle, a species globally endangered and threatened in Ontario.”
After several appeals, the developer presented a harm mitigation plan. The tribunal’s ruling, due this month, will have dramatic implications for other communities seeking to block industrial-scale turbines.
Among them are the residents of Amherst Island, near Kingston. Developer Windlectric Inc. won approval to build 26 turbines on the tiny island. But again the Blanding’s turtle reared its yellow chin. A 2013 species-at-risk report prepared for the developer claimed there were no Blanding’s turtles on Amherst. In response, residents began to document sightings; 30 have come forward to attest to their presence.
Why do so many rural Ontarians oppose wind power? They don’t really. What they oppose is Dalton McGuinty’s legacy legislation, the Green Energy Act, designed to steamroll past municipal decision making in the siting of renewable energy projects. Project approvals are issued centrally by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. Permits allowing destruction of habitat can be issued the same day.
If residents have concerns about the harmful effects of low-frequency noise or decimation of wildlife, environmental review tribunals offer narrow grounds for appeal. This process pits appellants against both developers and the Ministry of Environment, which finds itself in the Kafkaesque position of arguing to allow developers to kill, harm and harass endangered species. For the sake of the environment.
A smaller project by wpd Canada in Kawartha Lakes plans to place two of five turbines in the provincially protected Oak Ridges Moraine. The Sumac Ridge Wind Project was appealed. Last February, the ERT ruled in favour of the developer. If conservation areas are open for construction, one struggles to comprehend what “conservation” means.
When the stewards of our environment are arguing to kill threatened species to facilitate development, something’s clearly out of balance.
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