Report on the ERT Hearing on the White Pines Wind Project – Dec. 7, 2015
By Paula Peel, APPEC
On Day 18 of the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT), APPEC expert witness Dr. Daryl Cowell testified that there is substantial evidence of karst in the White Pines study area and that serious and irreversible impacts will occur if this project proceeds. WPD witness Ronald Donaldson and Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) witness Mark Phillips disputed this.
Dr. Cowell told the ERT that he has appeared as a karst expert witness before eight Ontario Municipal Board hearings, done work for municipalities across Ontario, and authored or co-authored hundreds of technical documents, including peer-reviewed papers. He has spent 40 years studying karst, with the past 20 years focused on hazard assessment. Dr. Cowell was qualified as a professional geoscientist with expertise in karst.
Dr. Cowell said that a major karst area runs through Black Creek Valley ANSI (Area of Natural and Scientific Interest). Physical evidence of karst includes sinkholes and crevices (as identified earlier by area resident and presenter Doug Murphy), an artesian-like stream, year-round springs that go underground, dry wells, and extensive limestone pavements. Turbines would be located in epikarst, the upper boundary of a karst system, close to the edge of the valley. The access road to wind turbines T02 and T03 crosses Black Creek and proceeds through a zone of karst features including crevices one foot wide and ten feet deep.
However, none of WPD’s Renewable Energy Approval reports identified karst features, assessed potential impacts, or even surveyed water bodies except in September and October, known to be low-flow periods.
Dr. Cowell noted that mapping the watershed in a karst aquifer is extremely difficult when vertical and horizontal fractures make water flow unpredictable and boundaries are always in flux. A storm water management plan is out of the question because it is impossible to determine the high water mark, a basic requirement for construction activities.
According to Dr. Cowell, blasting and trenching for 16 kilometres of new access roads, collector lines, and turbine bases will cause serious and irreversible harm to shallow karst areas. Blasting and backfilling through the upper metre of bedrock will dam and divert flows resulting in permanent impacts to the surface water/groundwater regime.
WPD witness Ronald Donaldson was qualified by the Tribunal as a hydrologist. His testimony focused on potential interference with the quality and quantity of the local water supply aquifer and groundwater.
Donaldson reviewed aerial photographs, maps and literature that show no conclusive evidence of karst in Prince Edward County. He considers the Black Creek Valley a sub-glacial tunnel formed long ago by glacial melt-waters. Though predicting impacts such as sediment in shallow water wells and wetlands, he said there are mitigations for the temporary effects as well as for sinkholes or fractures opened during construction. Donaldson agreed with APPEC counsel Eric Gillespie, however, that alterations to the top three metres could impact wetlands.
Mr. Gillespie referred Donaldson to a 2013 study cited by Dr. Cowell, “Evaluating karst risk at wind power projects.” While agreeing that karst evaluations should be done early, Donaldson said he was not qualified to speak to the study’s number one mitigation—to move the turbines.
Mark Phillips, of the MOECC, was qualified as a surface water specialist with expertise in identifying risks to and mitigation of surface waters. Starting in October 2014, Phillips raised a number of issues about the lack of detail on project impacts on wetlands in WPD’s Construction Plan Report, the risk of impacts during construction on surface water, and the timing of surveys for water bodies. However, WPD chose to rely on existing MOECC records rather than carry out additional field work.
Nonetheless, Phillips considers that risks from erosion and sediment can be fully managed by the “mitigation toolbox” and the effects will be temporary. He confirmed with Mr. Gillespie that he did not review the wetlands near turbines T27, T28, and T29 or, indeed, the Natural Heritage Assessment on wetlands.