Two-thirds of contested White Pines project on endangered species habitat, Tribunal hears
Report on the ERT Hearing on the White Pines Wind Project – Dec. 4, 2015
By Henri Garand, APPEC
On Day 17 the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) of the White Pines wind project heard the testimony of WPD witnesses Shawn Taylor and Dr. Paul Kerlinger.
Mr. Taylor was qualified by the Tribunal as “an ecological restoration and construction mitigation specialist.” However, he testified at length about Blanding’s turtles because of his participation in a four-year study involving a Kanata road extension into their habitat.
After classifying the roads (paved, gravel, and access) required for White Pines, Taylor spoke about the risks from higher traffic, but he said these are minimal due to the “block-out period” on construction between April 15 and October 15, and the later infrequent maintenance visits. Mitigations such as staff training and 15km speed limits will protect turtles.
Taylor also felt that “new roads would not increase fragmentation of Blanding’s turtle habitat.” He described the access roads as “laneways” flush to the ground surface and therefore not a barrier to turtles. Similarly, turtles will readily move through the nine culverts to be constructed. The roads would also not interfere with water flow into deep wetlands, crucial overwintering habitat.
Predation of eggs and young by foxes, raccoons, and skunks is possible but could be mitigated by compaction and reduction of roadside gravel, though neither method is cited in the White Pines construction report.
During cross-examination by APPEC counsel Eric Gillespie, Taylor admitted that his witness statement is incorrect in describing most access roads as passing through ploughed fields instead of cultural meadow, alvar, and treed land. Only nine turbines are located within current agricultural fields. The access “laneways” would be 5m wide, with brush clearance as much as 5m on each side.
Taylor also conceded that two thirds of the White Pines project lies within primary Blanding’s turtle habitat. According to a map in WPD’s Natural Heritage Assessment, wind turbines T7, T11-24, and T27-29 all fall within known turtle egg excavation or spring foraging areas.
Paul Kerlinger, Ph.D., was qualified as “a biologist with specialization in bird behavior and expertise on the impacts of wind energy projects.” Once an Audubon Society director of the Cape May Observatory, Kerlinger redirected his career to studying avian risks from wind projects in Canada, Mexico, Spain, and the United States, and he has testified in 100 cases as an expert witness on behalf of developers.
Although stating that “all wind projects kill birds,” Kerlinger does not regard this as “serious and Irreversible harm” because the fatalities are not statistically significant at the species population level, whether measured as a percentage or by population viability models (which take into account reproductive rates, dispersal and mortality). He said studies show that mortality ranges from 6-9 birds per turbines per year, and the upper figure applies to Wolfe Island when its monitoring records are averaged over three years.
Under cross-examination Kerlinger admitted there are different views of the appropriate geographical scale to be considered for assessing risk to bird populations. He also conceded that monitoring results are dependent on search area size and terrain, number of predators, frequency of searches, and staff training. Data comparison across projects is complicated by differing turbine sizes and power output. Finally, though noting the effectiveness of such mitigations as flashing lights and turbine shutdowns, he said he had made no suggestions to WPD.
The ERT resumes Monday, December 7, 10 a.m., at the Prince Edward Community Centre, 375 Main St., Picton.