Ontario’s environment ministry has finally laid charges in connection to a high-profile woodlot-cutting case involving wind farm developers in Lambton County, The Observer has learned.
Contractor AMEC Foster Wheeler Americas Ltd. – along with current wind farm owner Cedar Point II GP Inc. and former owner Suncor Energy Products Inc. – have all been charged under the Environmental Protection Act, an official with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change confirmed in an email.
All three companies have been charged with a provincial offence for failing to comply with a condition of a renewable energy approval by removing vegetation and/or woodland during the construction of the Cedar Point wind farm in 2015.
The matter is set to be heard May 5 at Sarnia’s provincial offences court located in the Bayside Centre.
“I think (the charge is) justified and there’s finally a ministry doing its job,” Plympton-Wyoming Mayor Lonny Napper said of the news Tuesday. “These people went in there and just mutilated that forest in there.”
Almost an acre worth of Lambton Shores trees – some of those in provincially-significant wetlands – were cleared mistakenly by a Cedar Point wind farm contractor for the installation of transmission lines.
That’s on top of another acre of Lambton Shores woodlands inappropriately removed by a private landowner with ties to the Cedar Point project.
The now fully-operational 46-turbine Cedar Point wind farm spans across Plympton-Wyoming, Lambton Shores and Warwick Township, generating enough electricity to power 30,000 homes in an average year.
Ministry officials started investigating the inappropriate tree cutting tied to the Cedar Point project in May 2015 after they received a report of protected trees being cut down by the project’s contractor.
Members of We’re Against Industrial Turbines, Plympton-Wyoming (WAIT-PW) noticed the damaged woodlots and reported it to the ministry, said spokesperson Santo Giorno.
“The MOE was not supervising – they don’t – and neither does the Ministry of Natural Resources,” he said. “They just don’t have the manpower, so they’re relying on the goodwill and the proper due diligence by the developers…”
While the private landowner paid a fine of $6,000 to the County of Lambton in early 2016, the MOECC hadn’t laid any provincial environmental charges on the companies involved in the separate woodlot-clearing case until now.
Giorno said he suspects the timing is due to the fact the deadline is nearing for the MOECC to still be able to file charges in connection to the tree-cutting incident.
“I think it’s only right,” he said of the ministry laying the charge. “It was obviously a pretty blatant example of negligence.”
For Napper – who has become a political champion for the anti-wind movement – he was pleased to see the charge laid because “just to sweep it under the rug was a little drastic.
“It’s great to see (the ministry) making people accountable for their actions,” he said Tuesday.
The Observer reached out Tuesday to Suncor Energy and NextEra Energy – who co-owned the project at the time of the tree-cutting incident – as well as AMEC Foster Wheeler for comment for this story.
Suncor spokesperson Nicole Fisher said Tuesday the company doesn’t provide comment on matters currently before the court, but she acknowledged that at the time of the incident the company did state the removal of the trees was unintentional and apologized for making the error.
“We did work with the St. Clair [Region] Conservation Authority to mitigate and remediate the impacts and have completed an investigation,” she added.
In an email Tuesday, AMEC Foster Wheeler spokesperson Lauren Gallagher also declined a request for comment because “this matter is with our legal counsel and it would not be appropriate for us to provide a comment at this time.”
NextEra Energy also declined to provide comment citing a desire to respect the legal process.
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