Day Seven of the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) began expert witness testimony on the health effects of the White Pines wind project.
The first order of business, however, was the Tribunal’s decision on the two environmental reply witnesses proposed by appellant APPEC. Chair Marcia Valiante ruled the witness statements partially admissible subject to objections over “bolstering” and “originality” of evidence.
Then the hearing turned to the first of the health experts called by APPEC. Christopher Hanning, MD, qualified as “a physician with expertise in sleep medicine and physiology,” said wind turbines are “inherently noisy and cause sleep loss” because the characteristics of amplitude modulation and low-frequency sound make them much more annoying than aircraft, railways, and road traffic. Citing anecdotal and epidemiological studies, he explained that 15 percent of the population is sensitive to noise and “people are caused serious harm with current minimum setbacks.” He argued that the level of proof which dissenting experts require is inappropriate and that the Precautionary Principle should be used to protect public health. If adverse effects occur up to 1.5 km, this is incontrovertible evidence that the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) setback is inadequate.
After completing the examination in chief, Eric Gillespie, APPEC’s counsel, asked how the Tribunal would assess 118 sources in a 69-page witness statement since Dr. Hanning had been able to comment on only a few due to the Tribunal’s tight timelines.
Chair Valiante replied that the Tribunal had established rules based on standard practice and Gillespie would have to appeal these in a judicial review.
In cross-examination Sylvia Davis, MOECC counsel, questioned the relevance and credibility of Dr. Hanning’s sources, in which statements by wind project residents are taken at “face value.” Dr. Hanning clarified that in the practice of medicine people’s statements are generally accepted but followed by medical histories and clinical tests. He asserted that the studies cumulatively show the existence of a health problem as well as the need for research.
James Wilson, WPD counsel, questioned Dr. Hanning’s qualification to testify as he is not an acoustician. Dr. Hanning told the ERT that having spent his entire professional life studying sleep it is apparent to him that any noise causing an adverse health effect constitutes serious harm to human health. He said he relies on the World Health Organization definition of annoyance. If people are annoyed to the extent they are forced to leave their homes or are too tired to drive, the annoyance is serious harm.
The second health expert called by APPEC was Dr. Robert McMurtry, whom Gillespie sought to qualify as a physician and surgeon with expertise in the delivery of health care, heath care policies and health policies. Gillespie noted that Dr. McMurtry had been so qualified at previous ERTs, and he pointed to a long and distinguished career in medicine, invited testimony this year before the Australian Senate, and peer-reviewed publication in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine on health effects in the environs of wind turbines.
But Wilson objected to the qualification of Dr. McMurtry. He submitted that as a homeowner in the White Pines project area Dr. McMurtry was not an independent witness, had a personal financial interest, and should not be permitted to give opinion evidence. Gillespie responded that at this time Dr. McMurtry has no financial interest in anything. He noted further that Dr. McMurtry’s opinion has been relevant at other hearings and is important for the Tribunal to hear.
The Tribunal agreed to qualify Dr. McMurtry as an Expert Witness and decided that due to the lengthy process of qualification his testimony would be given the next day.
The ERT resumes Wednesday, November 18, 10 a.m. at the Essroc Centre, Wellington.