ERT panelists Heather Gibbs and Robert Wright confer before ruling
Photo: County Live
The news is spreading of the testimony at the Ostrander Point appeal before the Environmental Review Tribunal by senior scientist at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Joe Crowley, to the effect that his expert recommendation was that a permit NOT be granted to harm the Blandings Turtle for a wind power development at Ostrander Point, on the South Shore of Prince Edward County.
Here is the official account of the day’s events by Myrna Wood, of the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists (PECFN), the appellant in the original action. (More news on the appeal at www.saveostranderpoint.org):
The witness was Joe Crowley from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, who was qualified as a species at risk herpetologist with expertise in Blanding’s Turtles. Mr. Crowley has a long history of interest in and working in the field of herpetology in Ontario and helped to develop the Ontario Herpetology Atlas, a citizen science project, while working with Ontario Nature before he started his tenure with MNRF. At MNRF his responsibilities included being the species at risk expert on herpetology, giving advice to staff and partners and conservation groups on the development of species at risk protection plans. He was instrumental in developing the provincial task team forestry policy regarding amphibians and reptiles. He is a member of the reptile and amphibian sub- committee of COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada), reviewing reports for that committee of technical and scientific information which informs decisions regarding listing species at risk. He is the Vice President of the Canadian Herpetology Society responsible for web site development and communication.
Mr. Crowley’s witness statement was concerned with the attempts to mitigate harm to the indigenous turtle population at Ostrander Point through the installation of gates on the turbine access roads and a program of monitoring, signage and staff training. Mr. Crowley answered many questions about the effectiveness of the various mitigation measures proposed to protect the turtles. Gates are proposed on about 6 road intersections on the site including the intersection of Helmer Rd and Petticoat Point Lane. Mr. Crowley indicated that he felt that those gates would reduce the risk of turtle mortality to public vehicular traffic; however the presence of roads would increase the probability of turtles nesting in a place that would make them more vulnerable to predation and the roads were unlikely to deter poachers.
The unexpected part of the day came when Mr. Crowley was asked about his role in the granting of the Endangered Species Act permit granted allowing the proponent to “kill harm and harass” the Whip—poor-will and the Blanding’s Turtle at Ostrander point. Mr. Crowley stated that his advice at the time was not to allow the permit because the project roads would prove a risk to the site’s indigenous Blanding’s Turtles.
This new information caused an abrupt halt in the proceedings. The legal argument was made by PECFN counsel, Eric Gillespie that it appeared that a senior manager at MNRF had advised against approval of the Ostrander project at the very onset. Mr. Gillespie requested documentation of that advice. Mr. Crowley was unable to produce any documentation and asserted that the final decision on the project was not his. Ultimately after much legal discussion the Tribunal issued a ruling:
That the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry witnesses produce forthwith all papers and electronic correspondence to date relating to roads and/or Blanding’s Turtle and this renewable energy approved project and site.
– See more at: http://www.saveostranderpoint.org/september-4-2015-day-3-at-the-ert-hearing/#sthash.lokjWGkK.dpuf
This news is astounding: clearly, Mr. Crowley’s expert advice was over-ruled by the bureaucracy for what we can only assume are political reasons, as the Ontario government seeks to push its “green” environmental-action agenda forward, regardless of the facts. Regardless of actual harm to the environment.
Lawyer Eric Gillespie speaking to citizens of Prince Edward County the next day, said this revelation has many ramifications, including impact of appeals that have gone before. If the Ministry covered up scientific advice once, he said, it is possible “they did it other times, too.”
What about the Niagara Region Wind project where a total of 20 turbines out of the 77 in the project, were found to be on Blanding’s turtle habitat? Or the turbines at Port Ryerse, where endangered barn owls exist—what were the expert opinions from MNR scientists on those applications? Amherst Island? the north shore of Lake Erie? The Huron shore?
Mr. Crowley returns as a witness September 23rd; as he is not finished as a witness he cannot speak about his testimony to anyone, but the Government of Ontario is certainly in a very awkward position at present.
They have put themselves there: how can you claim to be working toward climate change and positive environmental action when you knowingly approve industrial power projects that you know will harm the environment?
Wind Concerns Ontario
See related news report here.