A group working to protect Amherst Island says the Ontario government is not enforcing a tribunal order to protect the Blanding’s turtle.
In 2016, the Environmental Review Tribunal dismissed the Association for the Protection of Amherst Island’s application to block the construction of wind turbines on the island. Yet the tribunal put a construction restriction in place to help protect the island’s endangered Blanding’s turtle population.
The work was only supposed to take place from November to March. Despite that restriction, members of the association claim construction crews are still working away.
Michelle Le Lay, who lives on the island and is a member of the association, says what used to be a quiet road is now busier than ever.
“There’s cement trucks, there’s water trucks, gravel. Normally along this road, there’s five or six cars an hour, now you can see in here five or six trucks a minute,” Le Lay says.
The road is one of many on Amherst Island that has been turned into a construction zone as wind turbine company Windlectric Inc. works to build 26 wind turbines.
After a lengthy appeal process, the government gave Windlectric the green light to build the turbines. According to Le Lay, that build came with one restriction — they are not to work near wetlands between April and November to protect the endangered Blanding’s turtle population. She says that condition is being violated.
“The company is totally ignoring the condition that was set by the tribunal, and we are asking the minister to enforce his own regulation,” Le Lay says.
Blanding’s turtles breed between April and November. Some of the things that threaten the species include animals that prey on eggs during nesting season, a loss of habitat and motor vehicles. With trucks constantly driving through potential nesting areas, Le Lay fears many of the turtles are at risk of being killed.
“It’s very difficult when you’re sitting high up in a big truck to see the turtles. They nest on the gravel on the side of the road,” Le Lay says.
According to an activity map on the company’s website, work this week includes crane relocation, component deliveries and road upgrades. Whether that work falls under the restrictions is a question Le Lay hopes to have answered by the Ministry of the Environment, sooner rather than later.
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In an email, the Ministry of the Environment says it hasn’t issued any specific order against the company related to Blanding’s turtles — but has included a number of “stringent” approval conditions on the company.
“As a precautionary approach, the ministry has asked the company to have an expert prepare and implement a mitigation plan to address any potential impacts to Blanding’s turtle migration resulting from construction activities occurring on Amherst Island past March 31.”
Windlectric did not return a request for comment before publication.
According to Windlectric’s website, a protocol is in place to protect the turtles. The company states that if work needs to be done outside of the designated time frame, “a qualified biologist will be on site to pre-scan for the presence of turtles.” Additional measures include imposing speed limits of less than 30 km/h and the installation of fencing to prevent turtles from entering work sites.