Environmental assessment process explained

  • Oct. 3, 2008 8:00 a.m.

By Heather Ramsay -The NaiKun wind farm is not a done deal, say environmental assessment officers, even though the project has been visible in the community for so long. That was the message provincial and federal environment assessment office staff brought to the Howard Phillips Community Hall in Masset on Sept. 23. “The process is in the beginning stage,” said Chris Barlow of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. Both the federal and provincial environmental assessment agencies are involved in a coordinated process and say NaiKun is still in the pre-application phase for phase one of a 320 megawatt wind energy project in Hecate Strait. This can be the most lengthy and involved period of the environmental assessment process, said Rob Paynter of the Provincial Environment Assessment Office. The terms of reference for the application were set in 2007 and the company has been working since then to complete the studies expected for their initial application. The environmental assessment offices expect NaiKun to submit its application in January. At that point things speed up, said Mr. Paynter. The application goes through a 30-day screening period to ensure everything is in order, then the 180-day review period, which includes time for public comment, commences. The public have a 30-day review period which will include open houses, meetings and website access. Then a recommendations report is written by a technical team and sent to the appropriate provincial ministers who have 45 days to make a decision. The project can either go forward or the applicant must revise their project in the manner demanded by the review process, said Mr. Paynter. Many who attended the meeting confused this chance for input with one happening next week, when NaiKun will hold public meetings on the islands. People addressed the government employees as if they were from NaiKun, wanting answers to questions like why there aren’t more Haida people working on the project, whether migrating sandhill cranes will be impacted by the windmills, whether visual impact is being considered and why the project is going ahead in prime crab fishing grounds.People were concerned about the high shipping traffic in the strait and wondered what would happen if a boat broke down and hit the windmills. Another member of the public asked if the EA office would assess the impact if the project does not go ahead and islanders have to continue to use diesel for power. The answer was no. Along with the environmental assessment officers, representatives of the Department of Fisheries and the Ministry of Transportation attended the meeting. These government departments have employees tasked with responding to this project and are also interested in hearing from the public. They will also have to issue permits to the proponent if the project goes ahead. The government officials emphasized that written concerns automatically become part of the environmental assessment process. One property owner was happy to hear the message offered at the meeting. “We’ve heard a lot from NaiKun. I appreciate you saying as a government agency that that’s what they’ve applied for but it might not necessarily be approved,” said the Masset resident. “If we don’t like what we see (in the report), what happens?” asked another member of the public. He was told that the proponent must evaluate all public input and provide responses to these concerns. Another member of the public asked whether the EAO monitors media stories or letters to the editor about the project. The answer was no. The presenters were also asked if the EA process has ever stopped a project and they replied that parts of projects have been stopped due to environmental assessments.