The Blanding’s turtle, a sunny little reptile already prone to smiling, must be beaming this week like somebody who’d won a lottery the same day they were awarded the Nobel Prize.
For the third time in the past three years, a legal decision was handed down in favour of the endangered species, and against a proposed wind turbine development in Prince Edward County, east of Toronto, that threatened to cause the turtle “serious and irreversible harm.”
In a ruling released Monday, an Environmental Review Tribunal ordered the initial “renewable energy approval” issued by the Ontario Environment Ministry four years ago to Ostrander Point GP Inc. revoked.
As far as opponents of the development are concerned, their fight is as good as won.
“Yippee! Hooray!” said Cheryl Anderson, a member and past president of the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists. “It’s been a long haul.”
The tribunal found, she said, that “none of the remedies that were proposed will do what needs to be done to make that a safe place for the Blanding’s turtle.
“I think it probably is the end of the road for this (development),” she said.
Dan Hardie, interim president of Gilead Power Corp., parent of Ostrander Point GP, said “we’re very disappointed.”
He told the Star he was to meet with his board and consultants Tuesday “to see where we’re going to go from here” and expected to have more to say later in the week.
In essence, the tribunal ruled that whatever the benefits of renewable energy – and whatever a government’s policy interest in promoting it – they do not override the public interest in protecting against environmental harm. (Migratory birds, bats and monarch butterflies were also said to be at risk under the wind turbine proposal.)
In December 2012, the provincial approval was awarded to Ostrander to install nine wind-turbine generators and supporting facilities on Crown land at Ostrander Point.
That decision was appealed to the Environmental Review Tribunal, which in July 2013 found the project posed serious and irreversible harm to the Blanding’s turtle, a species that is globally endangered and threatened in Ontario.
The developer appealed that finding to Ontario Divisional Court, then to the province’s Court of Appeal.
In April 2015, the Appeal Court upheld the tribunal’s finding on the potential environmental harm, but said the panel had failed to allow Ostrander to propose a remedy.
After hearings held last fall and earlier this year, the tribunal concluded that the proposed remedies were insufficient to safeguard the turtle and that, in effect, there were no known remedies available.
The Blanding’s turtle, named after the Philadelphia naturalist who identified it in the 1800s, averages 1.3 kilograms in weight, is 18 to 25 centimetres long and can have a lifespan of up to 70 years.
“It’s such a beautiful turtle, you know, with its bright yellow throat,” said Anderson. “It’s so distinctive and so beautiful and so rare.”
And now, it would appear, so much safer.
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