BELLEVILLE – Members of the Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County (APPEC) are mystified at a decision released by the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) late Tuesday afternoon, allowing work at the site of a 27-turbine wind development.
The ERT denied a motion of stay filed by the group to have all work at wpd Canada’s White Pines Wind Project delayed until after hearings for remedial action were heard.
The ERT suspended wpd Canada’s Renewal Energy Approval (REA) for the project in late February, ruling the 27-turbine development would cause serious and irreversible damage to Blanding’s Turtles and Little Brown Bats. The suspension is in effect pending the future mitigation hearings.
In the mean time, wpd officials informed appellants John Hirsch and the APPEC it intended to commence with vegetation clearing at the site as early as March 14.
APPEC president Orville Walsh said the group was taken back by the latest ERT decision.
“We are, of course, very disappointed with the decision because we were very confident the ruling would be in our favour,” he said.
“The decision was released as a one-line statement and gave no explanation. I’m sure, in time, we will find out what the (ERT’s) reasoning was, but at this time we have no idea. That’s disappointing because by denying our motion for a stay, they have put us in a rather strange position of defending our successful appeal of the project at the ERT at the very same time the project is being constructed.”
Walsh said the group intends to continue in its efforts to delay site preparation.
“We’re reviewing all our options and are committed to using all of our resources,” he explained. “We will continue to work with the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists (PECFN) and CCSAGE NATURALLY GREEN to prevent this destruction of the County’s natural and cultural environment.”
wpd Canada spokesman Kevin Surette said the company was pleased with the latest ruling.
“It’s been our position that site clearing is not related to the concerns raised by the Tribunal,” he said. “In regards to Blanding’s Turtle, the tribunal is seeking further mitigation measures during the operation phase related to internal access roads and upgrades to municipal roads and it’s our position that clearing vegetation doesn’t relate to that.”
Surette said no date has been set to begin work at the site, but anticipates it will be later this month or early April.
“A lot of it depends on the weather at this point, but we have told the (Ministry of Environment) it could be any time after March 29,” he explained. “In keeping for our plans for the project to use local services and labour whenever possible, we have a couple of local contractors lined up to do the clearing.”
A committee of the whole meeting scheduled Thursday to consider a road use agreement for the project was cancelled due to poor weather conditions.
Surette confirmed the company had rescinded its offer of a community benefit fund that would include the municipality receiving $7,000 per turbine for the first 10 years of the project, $8,500 for years 11-15 and $9,500 for years 16-20.
“In light of the recent publicity regarding the road use agreement, we thought it best to take that offer off the table so staff could concentrate on that agreement first,” he said. “We’ve put up a $2.7 million line of credit to ensure we repair any damage we do to any municipal roads or any upgrades needed.
“In 2014 council said we should contribute to a community fund and although we weren’t comfortable with the amount they first suggested, we worked with staff to come up with an amount we thought fair to both sides,” he explained. “We’ve budgeted for those funds and we’d still like to see the community benefit from it – so as we move forward perhaps we can resume those discussions.”
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