Myrna Wood at 4 pm today: “From the beginning several years ago, we were astounded that the Ministry of Natural Resources would issue a permit that allowed development of a site as important to species at risk as Ostrander Point. Over the years we continually have reminded the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Natural Resources that their responsibility to protect species at risk was being ignored by allowing development at Ostrander Point.”
What began as a usual day in the extended Environmental Review Tribunal appeal of the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change plan to allow development at Ostrander Point in the PEC South Shore Important Bird Area finished with an unexpected ruling.
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.
The Tribunal resumes on September 23, 24 and 25.