June 9: Deadline for Public Comment on Ostrander Point Wind Energy Park

Tomorrow, June 9, is the deadline for public comment on Gilead Power Corporation’s proposed wind energy plant at Ostrander Point.

ACT NOW – Tell the Province of Ontario what you think about Gilead’s permit applications to destroy endangered species and their habitat.

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources has posted a proposal on the Environmental Registry for a permit under the Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) which “would allow Gilead Power Corporation to kill, harm and harass Blanding’s Turtle and Whip-poor-will as well as damage and destroy habitat of Whip-poor-will for the purpose of the development and operation of Ostrander Point Wind Energy Park.”

The permit application is posted on the Province’s electronic review board for comment. Nature Canada, Ontario Nature and Prince Edward County Field Naturalists do not believe that issuance of this permit will lead to overall benefit for the species.  Now is your opportunity to comment on the proposed permit through the Environmental Registry. The deadline for comment is June 9, 2011.

This video, recorded during a visit to Ostrander Point on June 1, shows Blanding’s Turtle swimming in a stream beside Ostrander Point Road. This road runs along the eastern side of Prince Edward County South Shore Important Bird Area, an area that provides habitat for many endangered species like Blanding’s Turtle.

Nature Canada along with its partners Ontario Nature and the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists are in agreement with the belief that climate change poses one of the greatest risks to biodiversity. We fully support the government’s intention to expand the use of clean and renewable sources of energy through its Green Energy and Green Economy Act, 2009. However, in responding to climate change, we must not sacrifice biodiversity and significant habitats.  Protecting wildlife, threatened species and their habitat is vitally important if we are to buffer the effects of climate change and provide options for wildlife that must cope with predicted changes.

It commenting on this particular EBR posting, it is important to note that the ESA permitting process for the Ostrander point project goes forward separately from the Renewable Energy Approval (REA) process for the Ostrander project as a whole. We are firmly and publicly opposed to the granting of an REA for the proposed wind farm development at Ostrander Point, part of a globally significant Important Bird Area and an extremely important site for migration for birds, bats and Monarch Butterflies on the north shore of Lake Ontario.

In terms of the ESA permitting process, Ostrander Point provides habitat for many species, including Blanding’s Turtle and Whip-poor-will, both listed as threatened in Ontario. In order for an “overall benefit” permit to be issued under the ESA the following legal requirements must be met:

(i) an overall benefit to the species will be achieved within a reasonable time through requirements imposed by conditions of the permit, and,
(ii) reasonable alternatives have been considered, including alternatives that would not adversely affect the species, and the best alternative has been adopted, and,
(iii) reasonable steps to minimize adverse effects on individual members of the species are required by conditions of the permit. (ESA, section 17 (2) c)

We have serious doubts as to whether these requirements have or can be met. Outlined below are our key concerns about this proposed permit.

1. Alternative locations must be thoroughly considered. With respect to the siting of the project at Ostrander Point, it is unclear whether alternative locations have been considered, including alternatives that would not adversely affect the species, and whether the best alternative has been adopted, as required by the ESA. The information provided indicates only that six different layouts of the turbines at the Ostrander site were examined. There is no evidence that this site was compared with other reasonable alternative sites. If indeed other sites outside Ostrander Point were NOT thoroughly considered (e.g., farm land where the landowners are willing, where natural cover has already been removed, and where endangered species are not present), in our view the proposed project does not meet the ESA requirement to consider reasonable alternatives.

2. The “overall benefit to the species” has not been adequately demonstrated. The ESA sets a high standard regarding permits to damage or destroy endangered species habitat or to harm or harass a member of an endangered species: in the end the project proponent must provide an overall benefit to the species. In other words, the species must be better off than it was prior to the project going forward. In this case, the proponent Gilead Power Corporation, proposes to acquire and manage a property outside the project area. No details on what this “swap” would look like have been provided in the EBR posting. No actual sites or techniques to recreate this already highly functioning habitat have been identified.
To be clear, the benefit must be over and above what already exists if the trade off is to constitute an overall benefit. Merely acquiring other already existing habitat provides no additional benefit whatsoever. Furthermore, in the case of the Whip-poor-will, there is every reason to believe that building massive wind turbines on Ostrander Point will introduce a new and permanent risk to this declining nocturnal species which depends on areal hunting of insects.

Risk is another critical factor that must be considered when calculating overall benefit. When destroying one habitat and replacing it with another there is a great deal of risk involved, and generally speaking established, functioning habitat is of much higher value than manufactured habitat. This means that for every key habitat feature that is rendered non-functional, a greater number of equivalent habitat features must be created, based on a ratio that takes risk of success into account; for example, a 3:1 ratio would mean that 3 habitat features would be created for every 1 destroyed. The higher the risk, the higher the ratio should be. To further address risk, created habitats should be functional prior to the destruction of established sites. The EBR posting provides no indication of how risk will be addressed.

Given the lack of information provided to demonstrate that alternative sites have been considered and that an overall benefit will be achieved, Nature Canada opposes the granting of this ESA permit.

Make your voice heard! Let the Province know that no permit should be granted until alternatives sites to Ostrander Point have been considered and measures to achieve overall benefit have been demonstrated.
Also, please keep in mind that original responses are weighed more heavily than are form letters. We suggest that you use the points above to draft your own letter and either post it online to the link below or send a hard copy to the listed address by June 9, 2011. Be sure to reference the EBR registry number: 011-3181.

For more information and to submit comments online click here

Thanks to Ontario Nature for providing some of the content for this blog.