Day 22 of Ostrander Point — Dr. F. Shilling on access roads
Report on May 2nd ERT Hearing
by Paula Peel, APPEC
The Environmental Review Tribunal heard the cross-examination of Gilead witness Dr. Paul Kerlinger on birds and the complete testimony of Gilead witness Dr. Fraser Shilling on access roads.
Cross-examination of Dr. Kerlinger
PECFN lawyer Eric Gillespie asked Dr. Kerlinger whether Ostrander Point is his first project within an alvar and an Important Bird Area (IBA). He said it was the first alvar and, to the best of his knowledge, possibly the first IBA. As a former director of research for the National Audubon Society, he was asked about Audubon policy on siting wind power projects, specifically within IBAs and migratory bird corridors. He said he was unfamiliar with the details.
Dr. Kerlinger was referred to a feasibility study (2007) in which he had recommended exclusion from IBAs and setbacks of 400 m from Lake Erie. He said he had been working for Green Energy Ohio and was trying to find a compromise due to the existing three-mile setbacks from lakeshore.
Mr. Gillespie reminded Dr. Kerlinger of his obligation as an expert witness to provide information fully and of his testimony on Golden Eagle fatalities. Why had he not reported the 75-100 annual deaths in California wind projects? He said the eagles had not been killed in eastern North America. Mr. Gillespie drew his attention to Stantec observations at Ostrander Point of Golden Eagles flying at turbine height. Dr. Kerlinger said the California deaths occurred in a year-round feeding area, not a migratory route.
Asked to compare mortality data at other wind projects, Dr. Kerlinger argued that while small projects may kill a disproportionately large number of birds, they kill a small absolute number. With respect to Wolfe Island, he conceded that taller turbines may increase mortality rates slightly for night migrants.
Qualifying of Dr. Shilling
Dr. Fraser Shilling received his Ph.D. in biological sciences from the University of Southern California. Dr. Shilling is co-director of the road ecology centre at UC Davis, where he researches impacts of roads and movement of animals and habitat fragmentation.
Dr. Shilling confirmed for Eric Gillespie that this is the first time he has done work in Ontario and in regard to alvar habitat and the Great Lakes. He has one work experience with Blanding’s Turtles.
Doug Hamilton, Gilead Power’s lawyer, sought to qualify Dr. Shilling as an expert in assessing the impacts of roads on wildlife and ecosystems. There were no objections, and he was qualified by the ERT panel.
Examination of Dr. Shilling
Dr. Shilling does not believe the roads at Ostrander Point will have any significant fragmentary effect. However, roads and traffic can disrupt habitat intactness and therefore require mitigation, such as the proposed signage and reduced speed limits.
Although Blanding’s Turtles bask on roads, they are most likely to use water for thermal regulation between June and September. On his April 30th site visit Dr. Shilling observed marshland along the shoreline and areas adjacent to the site as well as wetlands.
Dr. Schilling noted that there is some risk in developing the site. However, the proposed mitigations, if followed, are sufficient and will reduce the risk.
Eric Gillespie asked Dr. Shilling how many Ontario turtles are threatened or endangered, and then clarified that 7 of Ontario’s 8 species fall into these categories.
Mr. Gillespie noted Dr. Shilling’s testimony that turtles will be comfortable using roads at the site. Would this expose them to more predation? Dr. Shilling said there is insufficient information on road usage. He agreed that Blanding’s Turtles will use roads for nesting and their nesting behaviours can extend over a month.
Mr. Gillespie referred Dr. Shilling to a 2007 article in which as the lead author he had concluded that evidence on the effectiveness of mitigation remains sparse. Dr. Shilling said that this is still true. However, there was success when speed limits were reduced and enforced at an Australian national park. In the current situation, a speed limit can be advised and enforced.
Dr. Shilling agreed that this project will increase the road network and that habitat loss is a major concern in addition to road mortality. He said that the adjacent property acquired by the developer is suitable for Blanding’s Turtle, but he did not know whether it was currently used.
Mr. Gillespie referred to a study Dr. Shilling had relied on that stated Blanding’s Turtles use water, when warm enough, for thermoregulation. He noted that one of the features of alvar is that it dries out in summer. Dr. Shilling agreed that the study was done in Algonquin Park, but this only means that these sites differ.
Dr. Shilling agreed that serious and irreversible harm would occur if there are 3 Blanding’s Turtles at the site and 1 is killed. Mr. Gillespie suggested that there is no way to draw the conclusion of serious and irreversible harm when the number of Blanding’s Turtles at the site is unknown. Dr. Shilling agreed that “serious and irreversible” depends on populations and that the population at the site and within 10k of the site is not known. However, Dr. Shilling said that “3” is not realistic: The Natural Heritage Assessment cites 6 or 7 observations of Blanding’s Turtles.
Re-examination of Dr. Shilling
Dr. Shilling said speed bumps are effective at controlling speed; drivers reduce speed out of concern for damage to their vehicle.
Dr. Shilling said that according to the Algonquin Park study the Blanding’s Turtle shows a preference for being in water. He added that this would be assuming water is present for them.
ERT Panel Questions
Co-chair Robert Wright asked Dr. Schilling whether there is any aspect of connectivity that we should be concerned about. Dr. Shilling replied that functional separation has to do with the way the peripheral roads could be used.