The Environmental Review Tribunal has ruled the approval for a 500-foot-tall wind turbines in an area near the Collingwood Regional Airport should be revoked.
“This is a massive win,” said John Wiggins, who filed the original appeal against the Ministry of Environment’s decision to grant WPD Canada a renewable energy approval for the eight-turbine Fairview Wind project in March, 2016.
In a decision released Aug. 16, Dirk Vanderbent and Hugh Wilkins, who oversaw the appeal and subsequent remedy hearing for Fairview Wind, determined the project posed a risk of serious harm to human health.
WPD Canada president Ian MacRae said the company’s legal counsel will spend a few days digesting the decision before deciding a next move.
“It will take a day or so to get our head around it,” he said. “There’s a number of legal ways to move forward … until I hear back from the lawyers, I don’t know how (the decision) has been written, and the devil’s in the details there.”
The company has 15 days to file an appeal.
Along with Wiggins, the decision to approve the eight-turbine project had been challenged by several parties, including the Town of Collingwood, Township of Clearview, Simcoe County, the residents’ group Preserve Clearview, and Kevin and Gayle Elwood.
There were also several side parties to the appeal, including the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association, Steve and Mandy Bridson, and Susan Richardson.
“We’re pleased with the decision. It’s been a community achievement by all,” Elwood said.
In October, Vanderbent and Wilkins had ruled the project met the test for potential harm to human health with respect to the operations at the Collingwood Regional Airport and Elwood’s Clearview Aerodrome. At the time, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change director had also rescinded the approval of two of the eight turbines.
However, WPD was granted the opportunity to prove it could mitigate that risk, as well as the potential impact on the local population of the little brown bat.
In their ruling on the remedy hearing, Vanderbent and Wilkins stated while mitigation measures could be implemented to reduce bat mortality, “neither the approval holder nor the director has proposed effective means to mitigate the serious harm to human health.
“The tribunal concludes that the decision of the director should be revoked. As such, an amendment to the REA to address harm to little brown myotis via an amended mitigation plan is rendered unnecessary,” they wrote.
Clearview Township mayor Chris Vanderkruys applauded the decision.
“The decision by the ERT to revoke the approval will be very beneficial for both the Collingwood Regional Airport and the proposed Clearview Aviation Business Park,” Vanderkruys said. “It has been a long fight, but we have managed to preserve our landscape and ensure viable operation for both the airport and proposed development which will create valuable economic impact.”
Debbie Korolnek, the general manager of Engineering, Planning and Environment for the County of Simcoe, noted the tribunal recognized the argument from the county and the two municipalities that the proximity of the structures to the airport, and the effect of turbulence created by wind turbines on planes, were major concerns.
“The decision today is a good outcome,” Korolnek said.
“We are extremely happy with the decision issued today,” said Collingwood Mayor Sandra Cooper. “The town has long expressed concern with the proposed turbines, particularly over the safety of aircraft utilizing our regional airport, and we’re pleased to see that the Environmental Review Tribunal has agreed that this is a serious harm to human health.”
MacRae said the company will have to weigh its options as to whether to appeal, or to walk away.
“I think everything’s on the table,” he said, noting “there is a jurisdictional issue” as the federal agencies responsible for aviation safety have determined “they have no issues with the project.”
Wiggins expressed surprise the tribunal would rule against a previous decision of the province.
“I’m flabbergasted the tribunal came through with this judgement,” he said.
Wiggins joked he had a bottle of champagne ready to open, and was holding off until the appeal period had passed.
Elwood said he was hopeful an appeal would be unlikely given the evidence of the risk of harm to human health.
“The ERT’s decision is based on the facts, and an appeal would need to be based on error in law or a fundamental misunderstanding of the evidence,” he said. “I believe the harm to human health was proven at the hearing through expert testimony and evidence … and the tribunal maintained that.”
“What they could appeal, I’m not sure, but the door is still open,” Wiggins added. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the brown bat, or human health, it’s a win, and what the hell they can possible come back and appeal, I'm not sure."