STELLA – After a year of legal buildup, 25 days of hearings in Stella, Bath and Toronto and testimony from more than 40 witnesses, the Environmental Review Tribunal quietly released its decision to dismiss a challenge to the Amherst Island wind energy project earlier this month.
The decision to reject Association to Protect Amherst Island’s (APAI) appeal of the project approval clears one more hurdle for Algonquin Power’s Windlectric Inc. to proceed with the 26-turbine project.
APAI had appeal the project’s conditional Renewable Energy Approval (REA) issued in August 2015 by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change on grounds that construction of the turbines would cause serious harm to human and wildlife health and the environment.
In the decision, released on Aug. 3, tribunal members Robert Wright and Justin Duncan wrote that APAI had proved neither of its arguments.
“The Tribunal finds that the Appellant (APAI) has not proved that engaging in the Project in accordance with the REA will cause serious harm to human health or serious and irreversible harm to plant life, animal life or the natural environment,” the decision stated.
Central to APAI’s case was the argument that the turbine project would harm the population of Blanding’s turtles. The protection of Blanding’s turtles has led the ERT to revoke an REA for a wind energy project in Prince Edward County and APAI was hoping for a similar result on Amherst Island.
“The Tribunal finds the weight of the evidence is that it is unlikely that the construction and use of gated access roads on private land and the upgrading and use of public roads for the Project will increase Blanding’s turtle mortality and result in serious harm to Blanding’s Turtle,” the decision stated. “The Tribunal finds that the Appellant has not established that engaging in the Project in accordance with the REA will cause serious harm to Blanding’s turtle.”
The tribunal reached similar decision about birds and bats.
“It was really devastating when we saw that,” said APAI spokesperson Michele Le Lay.
“Most us who followed it, thought there was a disconnect between the hearings and the decision.”
APAI has two options before it, Le Lay said, including an appeal directly to the minister on matters not related to law or it could mount a court appeal to the ERT decision.
APAI has 30 days from the date the decision, meaning an appeal would have to be filed by the end of this week.
While she would not confirm if that was the group’s next move Le Lay did say it has launched another fundraising campaign and has a new board of directors.
“We are really close to finalising out move for the next step,” she said. “We have been really, really busy.”