Report on the ERT Hearing on the White Pines Wind Project – Dec 3, 2015
By Paula Peel, APPEC
On Day 16 of the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT), APPEC expert witness Kari Gunson testified that the White Pines wind project will cause serious and irreversible harm to Blanding’s turtles on the Prince Edward County south shore, and Dr. Smallwood completed his testimony from Tuesday.
Ms. Gunson has worked as a Road Ecologist for 16 years and has co-authored 13 peer-reviewed published articles. She was qualified by the Tribunal as a Road Ecologist, with experience evaluating the indirect and direct effects of roads on wildlife and their habitat.
Gunson focused on the large roadless areas around wind turbines T12 to T24 and T26 to T29. White Pines will increase road density in habitat occupied by the Blanding’s turtle, a threatened species, and the new roads will be used by maintenance vehicles, by landowners to gain access to their property, and by farm machinery.
Moreover, Ms. Gunson predicts that upgrades to existing municipal roads, such as Babylon and Helmer, will result in more traffic and vehicles moving at higher speeds than at present. Blanding’s turtles are at risk from vehicular strikes because they range up to 6 km, and in habitat, like the South Shore where soil is scarce, they will nest along the roads. Gravel roads can be ecological traps where turtles are also vulnerable to predation and poaching.
Access road construction, said Gunson, can lead to changes in vegetation composition and in hydrology, with changes in water temperatures and levels impacting turtles which overwinter in wetlands. Blanding’s turtle experts have recommended a 150m construction buffer from wetlands. However, WPD’s approved Environmental Impact Study provides only 120m buffers and permits construction activities metres away from wetlands.
Dr. Smallwood continued his discussion of his findings on Wolfe Island wildlife mortality for the purpose of understanding the impact of White Pines. He noted that fatalities for 57 bird and bat species have been reported, more than in any other single project he has ever seen. It is probable that the numbers will be even higher for White Pines because of the migratory pathway.
If Wolfe Island rates are realized at White Pines, Dr. Smallwood predicts project-level fatalities up to 954 birds and 1800 bats per year. Dr. Smallwood noted his concern with bats, which are drawn to heat-releasing vents in the turbines. It is difficult to estimate how many small bats are killed as they are not readily detected in carcass searches.
Dr. Smallwood told the ERT that the best way to prevent harm is siting White Pines to avoid problems. Little can be done after the project is built. He strongly disagrees with claims by Dr. Kerlinger and Dr. Strickland, witnesses for WPD, that impacts can be effectively mitigated once the wind turbines have been constructed.
The ERT continues Friday, December 4, 10 a.m., at the Prince Edward Community Centre, 375 Main St., Picton.