Day 12 of Ostrander Point — Bill Evans on avian fatality rates

[The ERT hearing continues on:

  • Monday, April 8 — Don Davis on Monarch butterflies
  • Tuesday, April 9 — Gilead’s witnesses on Stantec’s natural heritage assessment reports
  • Friday, April 12 — Mike Lord of Gilead and Ms. Volture on the Merlin Radar System]

Report on April 5th ERT Hearing

by Paula Peel, APPEC

The morning was taken up with completing the previous day’s cross-examination of Ted Cheskey and qualifying ornithologist Bill Evans as an expert witness for PECFN.  In the afternoon Mr. Evans presented evidence in support of his opinion that the proposed wind project at Ostrander Point will exceed avian fatality rates at Wolfe Island, which currently has the highest fatality rates of any North American wind project.

Gilead Power Cross-examination of Ted Cheskey

Gilead lawyer Douglas Hamilton pointed out that BirdLife International recognizes the South Shore IBA as globally significant because of its impressive populations of White-winged Scoter, Long-tailed Duck and Greater Scaup, not because of raptors or other land birds.  Mr. Cheskey said that Bird Studies Canada and Nature Canada take into account other congregatory species when assessing an IBA’s significance.

Mr. Cheskey stated that his risk assessment is based on the fact that there are no wind projects comparable to Gilead’s anywhere else. The project is located on a shoreline (with at least two turbines within one kilometer) and in the midst of wetlands and forested areas where insects abound.  Since other projects are proposed nearby both onshore and offshore, the Precautionary Principle should apply because “we simply don’t have enough information to conduct an experiment on the south shore of Prince Edward County.”

With respect to mitigations, Mr. Cheskey stated that they have not been proven effective.  On Wolfe Island mortality thresholds have been surpassed twenty times in roughly three years, yet the mitigation of turbine shutdown has never occurred.  The pulses of migration depend upon weather and many other variables, and cannot readily be predicted.  Mr. Cheskey noted that the mitigation to provide new habitat for the Whip-poor-will has never been done anywhere else.

PECFN Re-examination

Mr. Gillespie asked Mr. Cheskey to read from an Environment Canada letter cited in cross-examination by Mr. Hamilton.  The letter stated there is not enough evidence to assess the likely impacts specifically on the American Woodcock and Wilson’s Snipe.

ERT Panel’s Questions

Robert Wright asked Mr. Cheskey to elaborate on his statement that MNR was a strong partner at the time the IBA was recognized and that policy on Crown Land had since changed. Mr. Cheskey said that in 2001 the MNR provided input and mapping for the South Shore Conservation Plan.  In 2005 or 2006, a policy change made crown land available for renewable energy projects.

Qualification of Bill Evans

Mr. Evans has worked in the field of avian mortality at communication towers and wind turbine projects since the mid-1990s.  He has done mortality monitoring and avian risk assessments at eight wind projects. Mr. Evans has a number of peer-reviewed publications on avian acoustic monitoring and nocturnal bird migration.   PECFN lawyer Eric Gillespie sought to qualify Evans as an expert in avian impacts at communication towers and industrial scale wind turbines.

Based on Mr. Evans’s publications, both Sylvia Davis, lawyer for the Ministry of the Environment, and Douglas Hamilton, lawyer for Gilead Power, sought to restrict Mr. Evans’s expertise to acoustical monitoring of nocturnal bird migration or, as an alternative, to nocturnal bird migration.

After deliberations the ERT Panel qualified Mr. Evans as an expert in avian acoustical monitoring and in nocturnal bird migration.

Mr. Evan’s Presentation

Mr. Evans began by explaining what it takes to demonstrate “serious and irreversible harm.” First, he chose as an example the Purple Martin, a species declining between 5% and 7.5% per year in the Great Lakes region.  The 2013 population in Ontario is estimated at only 15,750.

Next, Mr. Evans compared the reports on avian fatalities at two wind projects: Wolfe Island (86 turbines) and Maple Ridge (195 turbines) in New York state.  He noted that the search protocols for carcasses are very different.  On Wolfe Island searches are restricted to a circle within 50 m of a wind turbine base, whereas Maple Ridge searches use 120m X 130m grids extending much farther away. The search protocols at Maple Ridge reveal some startling information.  In one year over 36% of avian carcasses were found beyond 50 m of turbine bases; in another year 44% were beyond 100 m.  Mr. Evans faulted Stantec for comparing the mortality rates at Wolfe Island and Maple Ridge despite the significantly different search methods.

Mr. Evans also argued that MNR’s 2011 Guidelines for Wind Power Projects are misleading when they state that most birds fall within 50 m, because 40% of all fatalities are between 50 and 80 m.  Environment Canada guidelines more accurately reflect the facts.

Based on 2009 and 2010 Wolfe Island data, making the correction from 50 to 80 m, Mr. Evans estimated Wolfe Island fatalities as high as 200 birds per turbine per year (rather than less than 13).

Turning to Purple Martins, Mr. Evans said that the Wolfe Island fatalities may be as high as 100 birds per turbine per year.  Regarding Ostrander Point, Mr. Evans noted that Stantec had reported 67 Purple Martins early in April, not a prime time for surveying aerial insectivores, and it provided little fall data on these migrating birds.

The data on raptors is more indicative.  Ostrander Point has a higher order than Wolfe Island of raptor rates during fall migration.  Consequently, fatalities at Ostrander Point could be substantially higher.

Mr. Evans pointed out that Wolfe Island has the highest fatality rates of any wind project in North America, but the Stantec reports do not indicate this fact.

Finally, Mr. Evans critiqued Stantec/Acadia radar data. He asked where all the birds are above 300-400 m, and he speculated that since Acadia’s radar could not pick up higher targets, the data was skewed.  To compare Ostrander Point with other sites required similar radar equipment.  Acadia’s radar data can only be compared with itself.

Mr. Evans drew the following conclusions:

  • The Ostrander Point project will impact local breeding populations.
  • The project will cause serious and irreversible population impact on Purple Martin and other species that are declining in Ontario.
  • The project is in a high bird migration concentration area and will have substantially higher raptor and songbird fatality rates than Wolfe Island.
  • Stantec underestimates Wolfe Island avian fatalities relative to Maple Ridge and underestimates Ostrander Point fatalities relative to Wolfe Island.

Posted on April 8, 2013, in Advocacy / politics / legal, Natural environment, Ostrander Point, Wind turbines. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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