Credit: photos courtesy of Larry Monczka
Port Ryerse, Ontario
Boralex Wind Project http://www.boralex.com/projects/portryerse
A Funny thing happen this morning at the Environmental Tribunal Hearing. Biddle v. Ontario, 14-063 (Environmental Appeal)
It was another town and was supposed to be just another hearing against a wind turbine project in southern Ontario. The day was cool and the sun shone bright. The sky was clear blue and shimmered as the first blush of summer touched the landscape. Port Ryerse is a beautiful small village located on the shores of Lake Erie. The peace and tranquility of village life is threatened by a wind project that would see industrial wind turbines installed and not all of the people are welcoming the development. It is land use that they have no planning veto over. There are to be two appeals filed against the project. The health and environmental hearings are planned to be held at separated times and today’s hearing was the in person start to the health section of the legal wrangling.
Wednesday June 3, 2015 the task for the morning was a site visit. All were to meet in the municipal Council Chambers of Norfolk in the town of Simcoe and start the frantic speed style administrative steps, filings, counter motions and move on to what is now a predetermined outcome. Wind takes and those who oppose lose. This particular project has hit some speed bumps on its way as this is the wind project that has been halted by the presence of a pair of rare nesting barn owls. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is now scrambling to come up with a way to be consistent and not to say no to this particular renewable energy development. It needs to create a new exemption that does not favour habitat or individuals from a species at risk. Inconvenient for a wind developer and MNRF as that those darn those barn owls do exist and these birds are a nesting pair of less than 20 known adult individuals in the wild in Ontario. The exemption permit is necessary in order to side step species at risk legislation and to allow the wind project to proceed unimpeded. Renewable energy is Ontario’s unflinching policy of the day. That said on this day things didn’t go as it was supposed to. On that day a funny thing happened at the Tribunal. The citizens didn’t play their expected roles. That day as the hearing got under way it was a thumb down to Ontario and was about the residents taking back control of a process that guarantees they lose. It was a small thing but it was the whisper of the people who have been shouting to be heard.
Early in the schedule of the day things went as expected as the Tribunal panel members arrived and lawyers began to gather for and against the project. After settling in, papers shuffled, microphones checked and the court reporter plugged in and all was ready to proceed it was becoming apparent something expected was missing. Where were the people?
Not a single member of the public was present. Not a single witness present to hear the matters of the Tribunal. Not a single member of the residents who had filed the appeal. No one, not one person. Lawyers, Tribunal panel members were confused and perplexed, even the appellant lawyer did not have knowledge or an explanation. Despite the lack of an apparent audience things needed to get under way and a lack of members of the public must not slow down the process and the site visit was to occur. Everyone headed out to the project site to meet up as prearranged for the tour. This is the place where the barn owls live and the known nest of the local Bald Eagles is near. The Eagles had successfully fledged their eaglets in the previous season.
Unknown to all of the lawyers the people of Port Ryerse had other plans and had met each other on the shoulders of the dead end road that leads to where the turbines are supposed to be built. Visiting and bird watching on such a beautiful day. The people chose to speak by not sitting in a dry, bland judicial process and used action as a protest to signal a way to bear witness to the invasion of their homes and community by unwanted industrial structures powered by the wind. Today the voice of the people spoke well.