Wind Concerns Ontario is a province-wide advocacy organization whose mission is to provide information on the potential impact of industrial-scale wind power generation on the economy, human health, and the natural environment.
LIVERMORE — A wind power provider that operates about 800 turbines in the Altamont Pass — where thousands of birds are believed killed by them each year — is shutting down its operations.
Altamont Winds told the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service in an email Oct. 23 that it is ceasing operations as of Sunday [Nov. 1].
The decision was applauded by environmental groups, which for years have been fighting to build awareness around the large numbers of golden eagles, raptors, burrowing owls and other birds that are killed by turbines.
“It’s a really big deal,” said Michael Lynes, director of public policy for Audubon California. “(Altamont Winds) is the second-largest operator in the Altamont, and they were doggedly continuing to use those old turbines that we know have a disproportionately high rate of mortality.”
Friday October 30 was supposed to be the last day of the hearings in the Ostrander Point appeal, where a wind power project is planned (and approved by the province) for a location in habitat of the endangered Blandings turtle.
At issue up to this point has been the fact that the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources’ (MNR) own at-risk species expert, Joe Crowley, determined that there was significant risk to the turtle and that proposed mitigation strategies would not be successful. The MNR, headed by District manager Karen Bellamy, ignored Crowley’s advice and issued a permit for the wind power developer Gilead to proceed. The Tribunal demanded documentation be produced on the research and decision-making at the MNR.
Here is a report from the appellant, the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists on Friday’s proceedings:
Ostrander Point ERT in Demorestville Day 3
After much procedural wrangling about the documents that were disclosed by Karen Bellamy, finally Ms. Bellamy’s cross examination was begun in the late morning. There was a discussion about how to deal with the vast amount of material that had been disclosed. Normally each item would be entered as an exhibit as it was discussed with the witness, but this was deemed to be a cumbersome method in this case. It was decided to get started and see how things went.
Mr. Wright [Robert Wright, co-chair of the Tribunal panel] was quite insistent that it was necessary to get on with the cross examination. [Appellant lawyer] Eric Gillespie started through the 1,500 documents that were disclosed. Most of the information that Eric was taking Ms. Bellamy to was about the process of how the Endangered Species Act was to be implemented and the plans for the Impact Management Plan. It became obvious that the approach of going through 1,500 documents one by one was not a productive exercise. Eric suggested – with the agreement of Ms. Davis and Ms. Kromkamp — that the documents could be grouped into categories and that a representative document or two from each category would provide the information he wanted to relay to the Tribunal.
Over the lunch break we went through the three volumes of documents and categorized them into groups such as: articles that could be removed from the record; articles that had been previously referred to; and a broad category of newspaper articles, Powerpoints, draft ESA permits and EBR postings and a group of unclassified emails.
The gist of Eric Gillespie’s argument was that the documents showed clear indications that Ms. Bellamy’s role was to coordinate and promote the Ostrander Point development. The written notes that were released through a freedom of information request included a communication between Ms. Bellamy and Mike Lord of Gilead regarding a CBC interview that took place in 2011. It was revealed that the “House Notes” about Ostrander Point that were delivered to assistant deputy ministers and deputy ministers were reviewed and approved by her. There were 31 newspaper articles in the released documents that showed that she was regularly receiving media stories about Ostrander Point.
The final argument was about which documents would be entered into the record as exhibits for the Tribunal to consider when making their decision on the case. Ms Kromkamp continued to assert that none of the documents were relevant to the remedy case. Eric Gillespie’s argument was that although some documents were not relevant, most of them were and these documents went to the determination of credibility of Ms. Bellamy as a fact witness. In his final submissions he pointed out the lack of information about the Blanding’s Turtle in any of the documents.
The organization of documents that Eric Gillespie proposed was accepted because it allowed for the tribunal to have context of the arguments presented. All the documents he proposed that the Tribunal accept as exhibits were accepted.
Two witnesses remain to be heard. There will be a teleconference on Wednesday Nov 4 to determine further timing for the Ostrander Point Environmental Review Tribunal hearings.
So, what we have so far as regards the Ministry of Natural Resources’ role:
the goal is to promote the wind power development, no matter what
the goal is to help the wind power proponent through the process, no matter what
actual science, i.e., evidence that serious and irreversible harm may come to the natural environment and wildlife is not to stand in the way
Note the Ministry’s mission statement below, taken from their website: the goal is to “protect biodiversity while promoting economic opportunities“…
These proceedings will be an eye-opener for those who thought the government’s role was to protect the environment and wildlife, not push through invasive power projects.
More news on this after the teleconference next week. Two more witnesses are to be heard from: Mike Lord of Gilead Power and Shawn Taylor, a “road ecologist” for the power developer.
MNR manager accused of being advocate for power developers, not the environment
October 29, 2015–
The appeal of the wind power project at Ostrander Point, on Prince Edward County’s South Shore, an Important Bird Area, and home to the endangered Blandings Turtle, continued yesterday in Ameliasburgh, where revelations from the Ministry of Natural Resources witnesses shocked those attending.
Here is a report from the Appellant, the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists (PECFN):
This day was spent in arguments. It began with a motion from Eric Gillespie to demand the release of all the documents from Joe Crowley and Karen Bellamy. The MOECC witnesses had previously been requested to release documents; however, it became evident during Ms Bellamy’s witness qualification that some documents released by freedom of information requests had not been released as a result of the Tribunal order and then it seemed that other documents that should have been released were not.
The question of the release of these documents was argued almost through the entire day.
The other matter of contention was exactly what Ms. Bellamy was allowed to be examined about. The Tribunal had made a decision that Ms. Bellamy’s evidence would only be related to fact. No opinions could be part of her evidence. As a result it was necessary to go through her whole witness statement to make a decision about which items would be heard and which would not be heard.
Finally, at about 4:20 pm the examination of Ms. Bellamy began. Ms. Bellamy responded to questions from Ms. Kromkamp of the MOECC about the Impact Monitoring Plan, Adaptive Management and the Endangered Species Act all as they related to the permits for Ostrander Point. With a brief break at 5 pm so that Eric Gillespie could postpone a previously arranged teleconference Ms. Bellamy was on the stand until 6 pm. Her cross examination by Mr. Gillespie and Mr. Paliere of South Shore Conservancy will proceed when the Tribunal resumes.
The Tribunal was adjourned until such time as the documents are released and counsel has an opportunity to look at them. The decision about whether to resume the hearing on Friday will be made in a teleconference tomorrow. [Thursday October 29]
So the issues here are:
why did the MOECC and the MNR not release documents, when they were directed to do so by the Environmental Review Tribunal panel? They were only caught out in this because citizens had spent money to do Freedom of Information requests, and possessed important and relevant information.
Bellamy, an executive with the MNR, revealed that the MNR was aware of the advice of at-risk species expert Joe Crowley but chose to ignore it; she appears to have acted alone to determine to give a permit for the power project, but received “thanks” from the MOECC for helping push the power project through. (The relationship between the MNR and the power developer was apparently so cosy that questions were raised as to whether Ms Bellamy had a “personal relationship” with the contact person for the wind power developer, due to the nature of the emails revealed.)
Lawyer Eric Gillespie accused Karen Bellamy of not acting as an advocate for the environment and wildlife as she is supposed to do but rather, acting as an advocate for the proponent.
Mr Gillespie also accused the MOECC of stringing out the proceedings and not producing relevant documents over the course of three years and now five separate legal hearings. Costs to the appellants will be an issue, he said.
Will the revelations here have an impact on other appeals held in the past, where documentation was also not produced or revealed to the Tribunal?
Ostrander Point, once all about a little turtle, now shares concerns with the lawsuit by Mesa Power vs Canada, in which it is alleged that the government contracting process for wind power is “arbitrary” and political; issues such as the role of the MOECC’s so-called “iterative process” (in which the Ministry and the wind power proponent work together to make changes to the project so it can proceed, often without public oversight or notice, as in the Gunn’s Hill project) are also being called into question.
It was not certain on Wednesday whether the proceedings would resume as planned, but in a teleconference held Thursday afternoon, the Parties decided the hearing will continue on Friday, October 30, in Demorestville.
Law firm Gowling Lafleur Henderson has published a detailed analysis of last week’s election win as regards the environment and energy policy.
With regard to energy and renewables, and climate change in specific, the analysts had this to say:
Mr. Trudeau has promised to “provide national leadership” and work with the provinces to take action on climate change. In the short term, he plans to attend the Conference of the Parties in Paris this December, and within 90 days establish a cross-country framework on climate change. A specific action item is the creation of a Low Carbon Economy Trust, which would provide funding to projects that materially reduce emissions. The Liberals have pledged 2 billion dollars in funds to this Trust.
This approach recognizes that the provinces hold significant power to shape climate initiatives. While the Liberals have promised a Pan-Canadian approach and a Canadian Energy Strategy, the new government has not promised that all measures adopted will be consistent across Canada. However, the federal government does have the jurisdiction to implement certain changes related to emissions. For instance, in the medium-term, Mr. Trudeau has promised to phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, in keeping with G20 commitments. He will also work with the USA and Mexico to develop a North American clean energy agreement.14
The Liberals are also focused on creating more jobs, specifically in the clean technology sector. The Liberals plan to invest 100 million additional dollars in clean technology producers, and 200 million more each year to support the use of these technologies in Canada’s natural resource industries. Another aspect of their approach is to establish the Canadian Infrastructure Bank, which will provide low cost financing to new projects, with a specific interest in supporting renewable energy through the issuance of Green Bonds. These financing instruments are intended to “level the playing field” with fossil fuel energy sources.15
The Liberals, in short, have promised to kick-start a green economy, one with more jobs and funding for clean technology, and greater integration of these techs into Canadian industry. The federal government has promised to “lead by example” and increase the government’s use of these technologies such as through expanding the federal fleet of electric vehicles.16
Our hope is that they closely examine the Ontario experience, and determine that blindly following ideology without cost-benefit or impact analysis as Ontario has (despite advice from two Auditors General) is perhaps not the wisest course of action.
This story is interesting not because the dismissal of the appeal by citizens (real citizens, people who live in the community and will be affected by the utility-scale wind turbines), but because of comments about the nature of the appeal process in Ontario (stacked against citizens and communities) and the so-called “community” investment group backing the East Oxford power project.
Construction has started on Oxford County’s first wind farm, a 10-turbine project in the Township of Norwich.
The Gunn’s Hill Wind Farm was given the final green light after appeals against the project were rejected by Ontario’s Environmental Review Tribunal.
“We are really thrilled, it is great news,” Helmut Schneider, president of the Oxford Community Energy Co-operative, developer of the wind farm, said Thursday.
Designed to produce as much as 18 megawatts of power, it’s developers estimate the wind farm will provide enough electricity for 6,000 homes.
Schneider said work on an access road to the wind farm started this week. Construction of the actual turbines will start in May when road restrictions are lifted.
The wind farm is expected to start producing power in August next year, Schneider said.
The towers and turbine blades will be manufactured in the Welland area. Other components will be imported from Germany.
The wind farm is a joint venture between Prowind Canada Inc., Oxford Community Energy Co-op, and Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corp.
While some Oxford County residents have opposed the project, others have joined the co-operative project, Schneider said.
The co-op has 185 members and 140 investors with about one-third from Oxford County. About $9 million was raised for the project by selling shares and bonds to members of the co-operative.
“There is very good community involvement and a real proof of the confidence the investors have in us to manage their investment,” Schneider said.
Norwich Township declared itself “not a willing host” for wind farm development in 2013 and a citizen’s group, the East Oxford Community Alliance, appealed the Environment Ministry approval of Gunn’s Hill.
The objection was based on both health concerns and its close proximity to Curries Aerodrome.
Schneider said the co-op is committed to working with wind farm opponents.
“We are always open to that. We really want them to know this is a community project and we want to make sure they are informed about what is happening next,” he said.
Joan Morris, spokesperson for East Oxford Community Alliance, the citizens’ group that opposed the Gunn’s Hill Wind Farm, said she wasn’t surprised the appeal was dismissed given the Green Energy Act was written to pave the way for projects.
To succeed the group had to prove the project would cause harm, a legal standard that is unprecedented and only set up to protect the industry and not the public or environment, Morris said in an e-mail.
“How can you ever predict with 100% certainty? Therefore the public never has the opportunity to ‘win’ in the appeal process,” she said.
Morris also disputed the suggestion the project has community backing.
“This was not a cooperative that grew from the community – it was placed here by the developer who recruited Mr. Schneider to find members. Mr. Schneider lives outside the project area and his home will not be surrounded by wind turbines,” Morris said.
Several bylaws drafted by Dutton/Dunwich to counter the anticipated impact of industrial wind turbines have been referred to legal counsel for review before final adoption.
Council voted Wednesday for two readings only on bylaws designed to limit light flicker and noise generated by turbines.
One bylaw seeks to regulate noise from industrial wind turbines. The other is aimed at controlling shadow light flicker from a turbine.
The preamble to the bylaw defines it as: “Being a bylaw to prohibit shadow flicker from any source including, but not limited to, industrial wind turbines …”
Coun. Dan McKillop said the municipality should get clarification on certain points before it proceeds with final adoption and implementation of the bylaws.
McKillop suggested it would be better to spend the time having the bylaws reviewed to make sure Dutton/Dunwich is in sound legal position before they are passed into law.
First and second reading of the bylaws was passed unanimously on recorded votes for each.
One other building bylaw regulating permits and fees for construction of buildings, etc, specifically stated issuance of permits also applied to industrial wind turbines. That clause should be referred to legal counsel for review, McKillop pointed out.
Both light flicker and noise have been targetted as potential byproducts of industrial wind turbine operation.
Invenergy has aplied to erect wind turbines in Dutton/Duwnich and is awaiting approval.
Ontario’s Green Energy Act limits what steps municipalities can take to control wind turbines.
THE “ASSOCIATION TO PROTECT AMHERST ISLAND” HAS LAUNCHED AN APPEAL AGAINST THE PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT’S DECISION TO ALLOW 26 WIND TURBINES TO BE BUILT ON THE ISLAND. A PRELIMINARY HEARING BEGAN TODAY — TO HEAR REQUESTS FROM OTHER GROUPS AND INDIVIDUALS WHO WISH TO SPEAK AT THE UPCOMING TRIBUNAL. NEWSWATCH’S JONNA SEMPLE EXPLAINS.
GATHERED IN THE ST. JOHN’S CHURCH HALL IN BATH MEMBERS OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW TRIBUNAL HEAR FROM THOSE WHO WANT TO SPEAK AT THE UPCOMING APPEAL HEARING.
THE ASSOCIATION TO PROTECT AMHERST ISLAND HAS LAUNCHED AN APPEAL OF THE PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT’S APPROVAL OF WINDLECTRIC’S TURBINE ENERGY PROJECT.
WE’RE QUITE CONFIDENT THAT THE PROJECT HAS BEEN DISIGNED TO MEET ALL THE REQUIREMENTS AND THAT IN THE COURSE OF THIS PROCEEDING IT WILL BE DETERMINED THAT THE PROJECT DOESN’T MEET THE TESTS UNDER THE ERT HERE.”
TODAY 3 GROUPS AND 1 INDIVIDUAL RECEIVED PERMISSION TO MAKE STATEMENTS WHEN THE APPEAL PROCESS GETS UNDERWAY LATER THIS YEAR.
“THE CONSERVATION AUTHORITY HAS NOT TAKEN AN OVERALL POSITION ON THE AMHERST ISLAND WIND ENERGY PROJECT. IT HAS CONSISTENTLY RAISED CONCERNS WITH RESPECT TO OWL HABITAT ON AMHERST ISLAND.”
THE KINGSTON FIELD NATURALISTS ARE ALSO PLANNING TO SPEAK ABOUT THE POTENTIAL EFFECTS THE TURBINES COULD HAVE ON THE ENVIRONMENT AND BIRDS. ONE MOTHER WAS ALSO GIVEN PERMISSION TO SPEAK ABOUT HER WORRIES OVER THE CONSTRUCTION HAPPENING TOO CLOSE TO AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.
“THE GOVERNMENT ACKNOWLEDGES THE CEMENT PLANT WILL BE RELEASING CONTAINMENTS TO THE ATMOSPHERE SURROUNDING THE PLANT, WHICH IS INCLUSIVE OF THE SCHOOL. SO THAT’S SULFUR-DIOXIDE, CARBON-DIOXIDE, YOU KNOW THINGS WE GO TO GREAT LENGTHS TO PROTECT CHILDREN FROM.”
“DESPITE THE APPEAL AND THE CONCERNS SOME HAVE ON THE NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF THE PROJECT – THE PROJECT MANAGER BEHIND THE WIND TURBINES REMAINS OPTIMISTIC.”
“OUR EXPECTATION IS THAT THE E.R.T. WILL FIND IN THE PROJECT’S FAVOUR AND UPHOLD THE PERMIT AND WE’LL START CONSTRUCTION IN EARNEST FOLLOWING THAT IN THE SPRING AND BE COMPLETE BY EARLY 2017.”
A THIRD GROUP WILL BE SPEAKING IN FAVOUR OF THE PROJECT AT THE HEARING. THE CITIZENS OF AMHERST ISLAND FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY IS A GROUP OF ABOUT 120 PEOPLE, MOST WILL HOST A WIND TURBINE ON THEIR PROPERTIES. WITNESS STATEMENTS AT THE TRIBUNAL WILL TAKE PLACE THE FIRST WEEK OF DECEMBER. THE APPEAL PROCESS IS SET TO WRAP UP AT THE BEGINNING OF FEBRUARY. JS CKWSNEWSWATCH
The Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) is concerned that the wind farm near Stayner proposed by WPD could have an “economic impact,” on the Collingwood Regional Airport.
In a letter obtained by simcoe.com from Mohsen Keyvani, supervisor of team 5 of the environmental approvals branch for the MOECC, sent to Khlaire Parre, director of renewable energy approvals for WPD Canada, the ministry is calling on the company to complete an “economic impact analysis,” by Nov. 9. In his letter, Keyvani said the MOECC expects the analysis to include input and engagement from the Collingwood Regional Airport.
“The MOECC is concerned about the project’s potential economic impacts on the Collingwood Regional Airport resulting from the operational impacts that Transport Canada has indicated will occur at the airport,” Keyvani wrote. “In its comments to the MOECC, Transport Canada has indicated that in order to maintain aviation safety at the airport, if the project were to be implemented, it will be necessary to raise the limits of the instrument approach procedures which may result in impacts on aerodrome operations at the airport.”
This letter came on the heels of one sent by Transport Canada to the MOECC in November 2014.
“In conclusion, based on the information reviewed, it appears there would likely be an operational impact on both the Collingwood and Stayner aerodromes,” wrote Joseph Szwalek, regional director of civil aviation, for the Ontario Region of Transport Canada to Hayley Berlin, manager of service integration environmental approvals access for MOECC. “There are aerodromes in Canada where obstacles are located in proximity to runways, and depending on their location, have continued operation with the establishment of specific procedures, and the marking, lighting and publication of these obstacles. However, it should be noted that such mitigation can result in a decrease in the usability of the Collingwood and Stayner aerodromes. The Department also wishes to emphasize that it is critical that planning and coordination of the siting of obstacles be conducted in conjunction with an aerodrome operator at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Mississauga-based WPD Canada has submitted a proposal to construct eight wind turbines on private property bound by Airport Road, County Road 91, Nottawasaga Concession 6 and Nottawasaga Sideroad 18-19.
The project was accepted as complete by the MOECC in December 2013 but WPD is still waiting on approval.
Kevin Surrette, WPD spokesperson, told Simcoe.com the company has filed an application with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Toronto to force the government’s hand.
“They have a service window of six months, once the applications have been deemed complete,” he said. “Obviously, we’d like them to approve it, but at this point we’re just saying ‘please make a decision about our application.’ They’re performing their due diligence to make sure all the information is correct and the applications are good.”
Surrett says the company’s analysis shows both the airport and the wind project could “co-exist.”
“Throughout the project, we’ve engaged an aviation safety expert, we have more than 35 years experience working with Transport Canada, with NAV Canada,” he said. “He did an analysis of our project and the Collingwood airport and he concluded that both our project and the airport could safely co-exist.”
The Turnbull government has appointed an academic and company director with strong ties to climate and renewables research as its new “wind commissioner”, in a move the clean energy industry says should help return the wind energy debate to “sensible”.
Andrew Dyer serves on the boards of Climateworks Australia and the Monash University sustainability unit. The government says his primary role will be to “refer complaints about windfarms to relevant state authorities” – which are already responsible for dealing with them.
The wind commissioner was promised by the former prime minister Tony Abbott in response to a Coalition and crossbench-dominated Senate committee report into the alleged health effects of windfarms. The senators demanded moves against wind energy in return for their essential votes on changes to the renewable energy target, which went beyond the deal the government had struck with Labor.
The Clean Energy Council’s chief executive, Kane Thornton, said he hoped Dyer’s appointment – and appointments to a new scientific committee on wind – would “return a more sensible tone to the debate, which had entered some strange territory during the recent Senate inquiry into windfarms.
“We expect that these new appointments will help to blow away some of the conspiracy theories about windfarms that have been championed by a small number of federal senators over the last few years.”
Dyer serves on multiple boards including Climateworks – a body that aims to facilitate substantial reductions in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions over the next five years – and the Monash University sustainability institute. The institute brings together academics from all disciplines to tackle “climate change and sustainability, and their intrinsic multiple crises”, as well as the question of how the Australian economy can become carbon neutral.
Dyer will sit in Hunt’s federal environment department. His role does not appear to involve determining the veracity of any complaints but rather passing them on to the state authorities and collating scientific information.
When Abbott pledged to appoint a wind commissioner, he told the radio announcer Alan Jones he found windfarms visually awful, agreed that they might have “potential health impacts” and said the deal on the renewable energy target was designed to reduce their numbers as much as the current Senate would allow.
“What we did recently in the Senate was to reduce, Alan, capital R-E-D-U-C-E, the number of these things that we are going to get in the future … I frankly would have liked to have reduced the number a lot more but we got the best deal we could out of the Senate and if we hadn’t had a deal, Alan, we would have been stuck with even more of these things …
The Australian Conservation Foundation’s chief executive, Kelly O’Shanassy, said it was “sad to see the federal government continuing to contribute uncertainty to Australia’s burgeoning clean energy industry.
“There have been no less than eight studies conducted at the federal level in the last five years into wind energy and every single one has found no evidence of wind farms making people sick.”
In other news, the government also appointed the first independent science committee:
The government has also appointed an independent scientific committee to conduct research into potential medical impacts of turbines which will be headed by acoustician and RMIT Adjunct Professor Jon Davy. The other members are:
Associate Professor Simon Carlile, Head of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, School of Medical Science, University of Sydney and Senior Director of Research at the Starkey Hearing Research Centre, University of California Berkeley, USA.
Clinical Professor David Hillman, Department of Pulmonary Physiology and Sleep Medicine at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital Perth, WA.
Dr Kym Burgemeister, Acoustics Associate Principal, Arup.
Wood turtlesare known for their sculpted shells, colourful legs and equally colourful personalities.
They are highly valued as pets.
Formally known as Glyptemys insculpta, the wood turtle is classified as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.
It’s similarly listed as endangered under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act.
Ontario’s wood turtles are at risk from international pet poachers, habitat loss and degradation, skunks, foxes and household pets, to say nothing of the threat of being rendered into road kill by motor vehicles.
Add to this the wood turtle’s late maturity, slow growth and its poor reproductive success, and you have a serious situation.
There are, apparently, wood turtles in the vicinity of the Bow Lake Wind Farm.
So far as your provincial government is concerned, these are secret turtles.
So much so, that SooToday is designating them as Bow Lake Windfarm Ninja Turtles (BLWNTs).
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry doesn’t want you to see them, know how many there are, where they are, where they aren’t, what they eat for breakfast or even anything about the methods used to look for them.
When someone tried recently to learn more about the BLWNTs, ministry officials fought beak and claw to prevent release of the information.
The original decision to withhold information about the turtles was appealed.
Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Privacy Commissioner finally ordered the government’s herpetologists out of their shells.
Last month, as Batchewana First Nation and BluEarth Renewables, Inc. were preparing to commission the 36-turbine Bow Lake project, Sherry Liang, Ontario’s assistant commissioner of information and privacy, was at a workshop at Sault Area Hospital, discussing the Bow Lake turtle decision as a recent precedent in provincial information-access law.
Here’s what the requester asked for:
“Produce a copy of any data collected or reports produced, including photographs or other visual evidence, by [the ministry] from 2008 to 2013 with respect to populations of wood turtles, snapping turtles, or Blanding’s turtles, including but not limited to any ‘tag and release’ program, in the 38 Mile Road area north of Chippewa Falls, Ontario and the area known as Bow Lake, Ontario, including the area of [details regarding four] townships…”
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry released little of the requested data, citing sections of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Endangered Species Act that allow information to be withheld if it “could reasonably be expected to lead to killing, harming, harassing, capturing or taking” a living member of an endangered species.
“Poaching is one of the most insidious threats facing wood turtles,” the ministry argued. “While the populations within Sault Ste. Marie District have been fairly stable, warnings have been issued by local enforcement officers for possession of species-at-risk/ non-species-at-risk turtles, as well as one charge laid for the illegal possession of wood turtle within the district.”
“Sharing the specific location information of this population could reasonably be expected to result in the taking or harming of wood turtles…” the ministry said.
But the data withheld by ministry officials went far beyond specific location coordinates.
They also refused to disclose information about:
information about where wood turtles were not found
a description of the use of dogs in locating turtles
a description of river and road terrains
information about bird nesting sites or actual sightings of birds
information describing other species
information about camera locations
information about vegetation
approximate location of a turtle sighted by a local person with no indication as to how this relates to the actual location of wood turtles
positions where weather observations were recorded
codes or acronyms severed from email chains
The Freedom of Information and Privacy Commissioner’s office wasn’t having any of it.
“The ministry also withheld charts, photographs and maps, without providing representations as to how disclosure of these records could reasonably be expected to lead to the locating of wood turtles,” snapped adjudicator Diane Smith. “Nor is it apparent to me that these documents reveal the specific location of wood turtle populations.”
Smith pointed out that much of the ministry’s data was old, dating from 2006 to 2012, with no explanation of how it might adversely affect turtles in 2015.
The ministry didn’t indicate how many turtle-possession warnings it issued, when it issued them, or the turtle species involved, Smith said.
As for the single charge laid for illegal possession of a wood turtle in the Sault Ste. Marie area, the ministry offered no further information about the charge or the outcome of court proceedings.
“I find that the ministry has not provided sufficient evidence that disclosure of the information at issue in the records could reasonably be expected to lead to the killing, harming, harassing, capturing or taking a living member of the wood turtle population,” said Smith. “Most of the information is vague locational information referring to general, imprecise locations.”
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry was ordered to release its BLWNT data by May 29 of this year.