Clearing of land in southern Prince Edward County for a 27 wind-turbine project has been halted – at least for now.
Late Friday afternoon, an Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) panel ordered site preparation in Athol ward by wpd Canada to be stopped after an earlier citing of a Blanding’s turtle on County Road 13.
The order came after a number of failed attempts by the Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County (APPEC) to stop site clearing which began early last week.
On March 22, the ERT ruled wpd Canada could proceed with site preparation despite its previous ruling the project would cause serious and irreversible damage to Blanding’s turtles and Little Brown Bats. At that time, the ERT provided APPEC with no explanation or reasons why it ruled against the motion of stay to delay site work.
A week later an Ontario Divisional Court judge dismissed another appeal by the group to have work delayed until the ERT provides reasons for its March 22 decision.
Last Wednesday, APPEC withdrew a motion for a stay on site preparation for the project at the Ontario Court of Appeal in Toronto after it was determined the appeal required a panel of three judges to rule, not the solo judge who attended the Osgoode Hall courtroom for Wednesday’s hearing.
APPEC president Orville Walsh was quick to credit the group’s lawyers and supporters for having work stopped.
“This long-awaited decision is the outcome of a tremendous effort by APPEC’s legal counsel, Eric Gillespie and Priya Vittal, who have worked tirelessly around the clock since Wednesday when the Tribunal issued its reasons related to our previous stay motion,” he said. “In giving its reasons, the Tribunal indicated that a further motion could be brought to the Tribunal should new evidence become available. Thanks to the efforts of many individuals and above all our legal counsel, this new evidence was submitted this morning in the form of photographs showing the level of destruction, an affidavit from a Blanding’s turtle expert that turtles are out of hibernation and moving across the project, and letters from local and national groups including the Canadian Wildlife Federation.”
In an e-mail to Postmedia, wpd Canada spokesman Kevin Surette said the company will seek to have the stay lifted and is committed to protecting the turtles.
“The panel had very limited time on Friday to consider the evidence brought forward by all sides, but has indicated they want to further consider this information and deal with the matter fairly quickly,” he wrote. “In the interim, they have told us to stop the clearing activity taking place on private property. wpd accepts that it has a responsibility to ensure that Blanding’s turtles are protected; in fact, the REA (Renewable Energy Approval) contains conditions to mitigate harm to the Blanding’s Turtle when they emerge from hibernation. The condition calls for wpd to have an expert on-site after May 1, when the turtles normally come out of hibernation, however we have already implemented that condition.”
The ERT has requested both APPEC and wpd Canada submit written documentation to support their positions, before making a final decision.