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Ontario green energy project could 'kill, harm and harass' endangered species

National Post

By Sarah Boesveld

May 13, 2011

A Toronto-based wind energy company will have the legal right to “kill, harm and harass” two endangered species if Ontario approves their permit to build over the creatures’ habitat on the shores of Lake Ontario.

Gilead Power Corporation is proposing a green energy project in Prince Edward County, home of the Blanding’s turtle and the whippoorwill. The area where the endangered turtles rest is also considered an “important bird area.”

The project is a complicated one that carries a certain kind of irony for environmental activists who largely approve of green energy projects but have a mandate to protect wildlife in their natural habitats. Ontario Nature, an organization that “protects wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement,” said sometimes good projects are proposed in areas that compromise the well being of animals. This is a clear example, said director of conservation and education Anne Bell, who stresses Ontario “absolutely needs wind” to help battle climate change.

“We’re totally supportive of wind, but at the same time, you can’t be putting up projects in the middle of areas where you know there’s going to be a significant ecological impact. It doesn’t make sense,” she said. “It’s not green. It’s green that’s not green.”

The organization has been speaking with interested parties about the project “for a long time,” their attention first drawn to it by the local conservation group Prince Edward County Field Naturalists. The group sent a letter of protest to the power company’s consultant last November, saying they feared the project would threaten not only the endangered species, but the bird, bat and monarch butterfly populations along the waterfront.

The company’s plans are so far at a standstill, as it must first earn the permit from the province that clears the way for construction — construction that would involve clearing away grasslands and marshes in order to build the towers.

“For the most part, we can find ways to mitigate around endangered species reasonably, so that the species continues, and continues to thrive,” said Ontario Natural Resources minister Linda Jeffrey.

As far as Ms. Bell is aware, the company has been unwilling to consider other locations for their wind project.

“They’re definitely willing to talk about mitigating impacts and all that sort of thing,” she said. “But for us, it’s pretty much a non-starter.”

The whippoorwill, widely referenced in North American folk songs and literature, was listed as a threatened species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada in 2009. Blanding’s turtle is protected under the Ontario Provincial Policy Statement of the Planning Act and is also protected federally.

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