Tribunal finds insufficient evidence to stop Amherst Island wind project
The residents working to keep their tiny island home free of industrial wind turbines were dealt a blow last week as an Environmental Review Tribunal has concluded it did not have enough evidence to stop the project.
The developer, Windlectric, plans to erect 27 turbines, each soaring to 168 metres (551 feet) into the sky on the island east of Cressy. Amherst Island is 20 kilometres (12 miles) long and 7 kilometres (4.3 miles) across. There is no part of this pastoral community that will be unaffected by the intense industrialization of the island.
Much of the Alliance to Protect Amherst Island (APAI) appeal relied on the success in overturning Renewable Energy Approvals for the Ostrander Point and White Pines projects in Prince Edward County. Indeed, APAI sought the counsel of Eric Gillespie, the lawyer who had acted for both the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists and the Association to Protect Prince Edward County in their successful appeals.
Appeals to industrial wind projects in Ontario are limited. Either the appellant must prove the project will cause serious harm to human health or that it will cause serious and irreversible harm to plant life, animal life or the natural environment.
HARM TO HUMAN HEALTH
In terms of human health, Dr. Carl Phillips noted that 400 of the 450 permanent residents of Amherst Island would reside within two kilometres of an industrial wind turbine and that as many as five per cent of these residents could suffer ill effects as a result.
But the Tribunal, comprised of Robert Wright and Justin Duncan, concluded that while this was a significant number, Phillips required the panel to make several “leaps of logic” to overturn the current consensus view regarding wind turbines and human health. They described Dr. Phillips’ arguments as a hypothesis without backing evidence.
The Tribunal noted that while it isn’t necessary to prove harm to a scientific standard—that it is capable of weighing evidence, drawing inferences and applying common sense in the absence of scientific certainty— Phillips was asking the adjudicators to make too big a leap. They found the appellants had not brought sufficient evidence to meet the test of serious harm.
Another Tribunal participant, Amy Caughey, argued that noise, dust and other emissions from a proposed concrete batch plant to be built on the island posed a serious impact to human health, particularly to children attending the nearby elementary school.
The Tribunal concluded that the potential impact of the plant in the community and the children at the school had been considered in the Renewable Energy Approval (REA) granted by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.
Further, it found that Caughey offered no evidence of harm—only criticisms of the analysis prepared by the developer’s consultants. The Tribunal concluded that harm to human health had not been established.
HARM TO WILDLIFE
The appellants were hopeful of success meeting the second test: serious and irreversible harm to plant life, animal life or the natural environment. After all, two Tribunals had recently ruled in Prince Edward County and a third in Pontypool that proposed industrial wind projects would harm endangered species including the Blanding’s turtle and the little brown bat.
The Tribunal considered the plight of the bobolink first. It found that the species was endangered— but not on Amherst Island, where evidence was presented indicating a bobolink population of between 2,800 and 20,000 birds. The Tribunal agreed that the loss of additional bobolinks is a serious matter, but concluded the project would have, at worst, a neutral effect on the population.
In terms of raptors, APAI submissions focused on owls—many of which overwinter in the wind-swept hayfields that largely define the landscape of the island. While the Tribunal heard concerns about loss of owl habitat, it was determined these birds are adept at avoiding the spinning blades. Biologist Andrew Taylor reported that no owl mortalities had been recorded on Wolfe Island.
When the hearing turned to the Blanding’s turtle, APAI had to first prove the endangered species actually live on the island. The developer’s consultant testified that 18 biologists had conducted 1,400 hours of survey work for the project, but none had seen a Blanding’s turtle. Further, the developer called 12 island residents to testify— each said they had never seen a Blanding’s turtle on Amherst Island.
But the Tribunal was persuaded, by expert witnesses and residents, that as many as 100 Blanding’s turtles live on Amherst Island. However, they concluded the turtles’ range was largely restricted to the coastal wetlands, sufficiently distinct and separate from the hayfields proposed for the construction of wind turbines.
The Tribunal heard no arguments that the project would displace Blanding’s turtle habitat and that mitigation measures proposed by the developer “all but eliminated the potential for turtle mortality.