NaiKun, governments questioned about wind farm project

  • Jun. 10, 2009 8:00 p.m.

The public comment period on NaiKun Wind’s environmental assessment is underway, and company and government officials held two meetings on the islands this week. At the first Monday evening in Masset, about a dozen people attended to check out the displays at the open house and hear presentations and ask questions about the project. Telell Waldhaus of Masset has fished Hecate Strait for crab for more than a decade. He’s concerned the wind farm will harm stocks, and said “considering the extreme biodiversity of fish in this area, would you look at longer term studies and also different studies, like mid-water, surface.Would you prolong the assessment process to cover a longer period. Do you feel the studies that have been done are substantial and significant enough?”Pat Lim of DFO, one of several experts who attended, said her department is looking very carefully at the studies that have been done, including studies done at three European wind farms. “We will have to look at whether (harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat, caused by the windmill bases) will be acceptable or not to us,” she said, “we are looking at it from the scientific and the management framework.””I think there is not nearly enough time, pre-build, for the studies,” Mr. Waldhaus said, “it is such a biodiverse area.” He also noted that Hecate Strait has supported First Nations fisheries since time immemorial and a sustainable, commercial fishery for longer than 100 years. “My point is, we basically need a 5-6 year study. Every week, we need to be studying. That’s my recommendation,” he said. “The main concern I have is for the crab fishermen,” Masset mayor Barry Pages said. “There is a significant potential impact on the economy of Masset. How are you going to understand if there is going to be any impact without a baseline study?”Matt Burns, Vice-President of NaiKun, said the company has done studies in two areas, and is now getting to work on a crab-tagging study. “We are confident the two activities (crabbing and the wind farm) can co-exist,” he said. Mr. Burns also noted that the environmental assessment process has been ongoing on since 2003. “It’s a significant and important investment on our part,” he said. He also said the project will be changed over time to accommodate and mitigate any potential impacts it may have.Ted Brown of Masset said he is generally in favour of the project.”Get rid of the diesel we are burning every day,” he said. He added that the ‘footprint’ of the project on the ocean floor is likely to be similar to the Confederation Bridge between P.E.I. and the mainland, a project with which he is familiar, which made the lobster fishery near it better.But he gave company and government officials an “F rating’ for what they have done so far.”You put up a tower to measure the wind. You didn’t do anything else,” he said, “I don’t get any warm fuzzy feeling from you.”Company documents say that “six years of detailed studies by scientists and area experts along with extensive consultation with First Nations and local communities contributed to NaiKun Wind’s 4,000 page application. The application covers 10 study areas including marine aquatic ecology, marine mammals, marine birds, archaeological resources, socio-economics and terrestrial ecology. It concludes there is no indication of significant adverse affects in any of the 10 study areas.”And NaiKun’s Matt Burns said he’s confident the project will be approved. “Our planning assumes a commercial agreement with BC Hydro this year and an environmental certificate late in the year,” he said, adding that he expects construction will start in 2012, with the turbines installed in 2103 and 2014, and the facility starting to produce power in 2014.”The Haida citizens will tell us as leaders what they want us to do. They haven’t done that yet,” said Council of the Haida Nation Old Massett representative Beryl Parke. “You guys are visitors on our territory and we have not yet decided. That agreement will be meaningless if the Haida people say ‘no’.” “Our people are still living in poverty,” she said, “I want to make sure the economic decisions are made by them and not by outsiders.” Ms Parke also said the NaiKun team shouldn’t be so confident, and said the approval processes “do not work properly and I don’t agree with them.” The CHN scheduled open houses on the project this week as well, on Wednesday in Skidegate and Thursday in Old Massett. Representatives from both the provincial and federal governments outlined their environmental assessment processes, which are harmonized into one. The public comment phase of the environmental assessment process runs until midnight July 12. More information is available at www.eao.gov.bc.ca and at www.naikun.ca NaiKun plans a windfarm to generate enough power for 130,000 homes, and hopes also to supply electricity to the islands, doing away with diesel generation. It would provide 200 jobs during construction and 50 permanent jobs once operating.

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