Measures to reduce the number of deaths of turtles and bats at the proposed sites of 27 industrial wind turbines on the south shore of Prince Edward County are not acceptable to opponents of the project.
Closing arguments for the Environmental Review Tribunal of the White Pines 27-turbine industrial wind project were heard Friday in Wellington. Verbal submissions on the case were heard from both sides, and tempers flared nearing the six-hour mark over procedural issues involving replies to what was heard throughout the day.
ERT members Marcia Valiante and Hugh Wilkins presided over the proceedings dealing with the Renewable Energy Approval (REA) issued to wpd White Pines, and its appeal by County resident John Hirsch and the Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County (APPEC).
The Tribunal, following a 21-day hearing in December 2015, issued an order in February 2016 that the project “will cause serious and irreversible harm” to animal life and the natural environment – including the endangered Blandings turtles and Little Brown bats. It then ordered a hearing of submissions for potential remedies.
In April 2016, wpd began clearing trees at the sites. A motion to stay construction was granted for areas identified as as the Blanding’s turtle spring foraging habitat pending the resolution of the appeals.
Hirsch, in his statement on Friday, said that following the often contentious 21-day hearing, the decision in February gave Prince Edward County opponents some hope.
“Migratory birds were my key interest, and the tribunal did agree that ‘clearly the project site is poorly choosen from a migratory bird perspective’. But in the end of the initial hearing process, it was once again left to the poor Blandings turtles and the beleagured Little Brown bats to save the day.”
Hirsch spoke about the submissions on the proposed remedies.
“My view is quite simple. wpd has proposed actions which have not been tried before in the real world, and in consequence, are not to be accepted as effective mitigation of the harms found by the tribunal. ”
He summarized wpd’s plan as “Laying down over six kilometres of road improvement using geo-tech plastic, multiple layers of gravel and tilling, grading and removal of vegetation; then, removing all the improvements and attempting to restore the roadway to its former state, they state, with no increased traffic to the project area; monitoring turtle nesting and disturbing their nests.”
Innovative concepts, he said, “but the fact remains, no one has ever tested these measures in respect to the endangered population of Blandings turtles – anywhere, much less in Prince Edward County. These measures have not been tried, or found to be effective… with unintended, or unexpected results.”
wpd council Patrick Duffy spoke of proposed remedies regarding mortality of Blandings turtles on roads, nesting sites and the creation of roads, while co-council James Wilson focused on turbine strikes related to Little Brown bats.
“An expert team has come up with these plans and the approval holder is proud of the plans and the work put into them to achieve objectives in a strong, scientific background,” Duffy said.
With emphasis the project was mostly on private lands, he described an “auto-pilot” component he described as proactive, baseline measures for the life of the project and a “pilot” component of additional monitoring and consultations.
– Timing restrictions of when work can take place
– Signage on roads, training and education on the construction site and site security
– Compacting gravel surfaces to a hardness between asphalt and concrete to make nesting impossible.
– a buried shoulders road design to further deter nesting. Stone would be four to six inches deep, larger he said than what a turtle would nest in.
– Plastic “geo-grid” placed 10cm deep, also to prevent nests which he said average 12cm deep.
– Vegetation with a custom seed mix of native plants along the shoulders to create a dense root zone, also to deter nesting.
– Turtle nest monitoring from May to July, or lengthened periods if necessary.
– Observing roads physically to determine if turtles are nesting, and use of wildlife camera surveillance.
– End of year discussions with Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Duffy said that if turtle eggs were found they would be taken for incubation or a nest cage would be put in place.
He said the plan also addresses public roadway improvements and mortality on the roads to be addressed in the Road Use Agreement signing with the municipality.
The County took its solicitor’s advice last April to sign the agreement which offered a $2.7 million irrevocable letter of credit, “insurance” against damage on the 28km of roads that will be used if the industrial turbine project is allowed to move forward. The document states the County is not a willing host to the project and is entering into the agreement for the sole purpose of protecting the interests of the County.
It is understood that agreement is not yet fully completed with all the documents required but Duffy noted wpd has also committed to it.
Wilson focused on harm to the Little Brown bat noting concern was centred on its active season after sunset in the summer when they feed on insects.
He spoke of feathering wings of turbines and lowering their speeds from sunset to midnight from May 1 to Sept. 30 with variations built in the plan related to the number of bats killed.
“As the level of impact increases, mitigation measures would become more stringent,” he said, noting that would included extended curtailment of turbine blade speed and committee discussion on whether further action was required.
“The correct remedy is to revoke the permit,” said APPEC council Eric Gillespie. “They have to prove successful mitigation measures As Mr. Hirsch said, the issue has not been well studied, we’re guessing in its speculation and going in circles to find evidence… The tribunal can’t rely on that data.”
Calling the proposals new, different and untried, he said they shouldn’t be tested on the County’s wildlife and fauna.
“Overall, I think it’s very clear that the tribunal has a difficult decision,” Gillespie said. “We’re all aware that when this project was first approved, that there was the belief that Green Energy was good and that has changed in terms of turbines. The government has woken up to the fact that we don’t need any more and of the harm they cause… I think the tribunal today came to a better understanding of our clients’ concerns that there just isn’t any evidence regarding all of these proposals.”
The difference between the wpd project and the nine-turbine project that the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists (and Blandings turtle) witnessed victory over last summer, is that the wpd plan is to be built on private lands where Gilead Power’s project involved public land.
“Why did the turtle cross the road? Now we know,” said Gillespie. “Because they can’t read the ERT decisions and realize that one side is OK and the other side is not.”
Valiante told participants a written decision will be issued by the tribunal “as soon as possible, but it is difficult to predict” exactly when.
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