Report on May 6st ERT Hearing
Ministry of Environment lawyer Sylva Davis advised the ERT Panel that an answer can now be provided on what constitutes shoreline. The Panel will decide whether to accept this evidence on consent or call someone to testify.
Two Gilead Power witnesses testified at the hearing: Dr. Christopher Edge on Blanding’s Turtles and Stantec employee Steve Brown on hydrology.
Qualifying of Dr. Christopher Edge
Dr. Edge received his Ph.D. in biology at the University of New Brunswick in 2012. He is doing post-doctoral research at the University of Alabama on the effects of herbicides on wetlands. Dr. Edge has two peer-reviewed publications on Blanding’s Turtles relating to his 2006 and 2007 research at Algonquin Park. His research and publications were part of credits for his master’s degree.
Bryn Gray, Gilead Power’s lawyer, sought to qualify Dr. Edge as an expert on Blanding’s Turtles. There were no objections, and he was so qualified by the ERT Panel.
Dr. Edge observed Blanding’s Turtle winter habitat in relation to the road network during a January visit to Ostrander Point. While at the site on May 5 he noted numerous habitats for nesting, a considerable amount of temporal wetland near the lakeshore and in the north parts, and two wetlands suitable for overwintering. He observed a Blanding’s Turtle in a southeast wetland, one on the compensation site, and another in close vicinity.
Regarding potential impacts, Dr. Edge considers that the project site does not contain uniquely suitable habitat for Blanding’s turtles. It is only a small percentage of the total available habitat along the south shore. He said that access roads will create new nesting habitat and turtles will nest in any sand-and-gravel shoulders within 200 m of a wetland.
In regard to road mortality, Dr. Edge noted that turtles use land only for nesting and travel between wetlands. Construction is scheduled outside the usage period. In addition, a number of mitigations have been identified including speed bumps, signage, and mortality monitoring and reporting.
Dr. Edge considers it unlikely that the project will cause serious and irreversible harm to Blanding’s Turtles at the project site.
Dr. Edge said he was not aware that in 2012 Blanding’s Turtles were moved by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) from near-threatened to endangered status.
Eric Gillespie asked Dr. Edge if he agreed that there would be no net increase in Blanding’s Turtle habitat given that the turbines, access roads and transformer station will occupy 5.2 ha of the project site and the compensation property is already used by turtles. Dr. Edge replied that the monitoring plan calls for improvements, but he conceded that he has not done any study showing that changes to the site would be an improvement.
Dr. Edge considers that the site is special in terms of the presence of Blanding’s Turtles but not special in terms of turtle habitat. He said he is aware of other wind projects proposed for the south shore but he does not know their status and has not seen plans. He did not consider cumulative effects in his analysis.
ERT Panel Questions
Heather Gibbs noted Dr. Edge’s comment about his hard time finding Blanding’s Turtles in Algonquin Park. Dr. Edge replied that densities vary in parts of Ontario. At Algonquin there is one turtle per hectare. He agreed that his own turtle sightings at Ostrander Point suggest a higher density.
Ms. Gibbs asked Dr. Edge about improving the survival rates of clutches on the compensation property. He suggested removing shrub vegetation to increase the temperature on the ground, modifying the substrate to achieve greater proportions of sand, and fencing to keep out predators.
Robert Wright asked to what extent the Crown land status would affect mitigation. Dr. Edge replied that drivers are the key problem, but speed bumps and signs will be effective.
Mr. Gillespie asked about improvements to the compensation site. Dr. Edge agreed that vegetation removal would have to be done regularly given the growth rate of vegetation. He could not say what overall impact a fence would have on other animal life cycles and movements. He agreed that poaching could be a problem and that signs alerting drivers to the presence of turtles would identify the area to poachers.
Qualifying of Steve Brown
Gilead Power lawyer Doug Hamilton sought to qualify Steve Brown as an expert in water resource engineering. Mr. Brown has been at Stantec since 1999. He is qualified by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation as having water resources expertise.
Mr. Wright noted Mr. Brown’s references to surface water issues. Mr. Brown confirmed that he does not have specific experience in ground water. He was qualified as an expert in surface water resource engineering.
Mr. Brown said that large portions of the access roads are on or near topographic high points and will therefore have little impact on the flow of water. Proposed changes to the surface flow path impact 2% of the site area, and measures have been identified to mitigate for the impacts.
Mr. Brown noted that access roads are to be removed at decommissioning. The granular material will be removed and the area will be restored to its original condition.
Mr. Brown said that when he walked the site a few weeks ago there was a fair amount of standing water everywhere. He is developing and refining a monitoring program now. A hydrological study and a geotechnical study are components. Generally, Stantec is looking at how to maintain existing patterns of flow.
Mr. Brown noted that alvar monitoring continues for three years. Mr. Wright asked Mr. Brown why this is not in the Environmental Effects Monitoring Report. Mr. Brown said he wasn’t able to answer the question. Mr. Wright asked about the two years of monitoring noted in the Post-Construction Monitoring Plan related to Fisheries Act legislation. Mr. Brown said he would have to confirm if this is in the Renewable Energy Approval.