Environmental group wants judge to review Wentworth Valley wind farm approval

An environmental group is asking a judge to review a decision by the environment minister to approve a wind farm in the Wentworth Valley. (Roger Cosman/CBC News - image credit)
An environmental group is asking a judge to review a decision by the environment minister to approve a wind farm in the Wentworth Valley. (Roger Cosman/CBC News - image credit)

A volunteer group is filing a judicial review of the provincial environment minister's decision to approve a wind farm in the Wentworth Valley in northern Nova Scotia.

Protect Wentworth Valley is challenging Environment Minister Tim Halman's May 4 decision on the Higgins Mountain wind farm project.

"We did not want to go this route, but the minister's decision left us no option," Heather Allen-Johnson, a member of the group, said in a news release. "We feel citizen concerns have not been heard or acknowledged over the past three years. We were basically dismissed."

The project would see 17 turbines erected between the communities of Westchester Station, Wentworth Station and Londonderry.

The group will argue that the minister failed to adequately address the project's effects on the endangered mainland moose and the community's use of the area for outdoor recreation and eco-tourism.

Elemental Energy
Elemental Energy

Allen-Johnson said many people in the area are concerned not only about the potential negative effects of the project, but also about the decision-making process.

"It's not a fair process that gives the community a vote or say. There is no community support if you look at the comments for this project," she said in an interview.

She said while other wind farm environmental assessments in the last two years have only garnered between two and 21 comments, the Higgins Mountain proposal had 187. She said only six of the comments were in favour of the project.

The community doesn't feel their concerns were taken into consideration in the minister's decision and the conditions he placed on the approval, Allen-Johnson said.

"We want to make sure that if this happens, it happens with the community and with the community voice."

Some residents have expressed concern about the development, saying it could have a negative effect on eco-tourism, moose, lichens, migratory birds, wetlands, rivers and streams.

"Many of those concerns are not being addressed," Allen-Johnson said.

The group wants to see the province set more stringent rules about approving projects and the conditions after approval, she said.

"We don't feel that the conditions are clear enough or extensive enough to mitigate any risk to the community."

In an email, Nova Scotia's Department of Environment and Climate Change declined to comment.

"We are unable to comment on applications for judicial review that are before the courts," wrote the department.

Judicial review process

After a judicial review application is filed, a judge will schedule a hearing to discuss the merits of the matter. The judge will then decide whether there is a legal reason to question the minister's decision. If the judge decides the minister's decision was not reasonable, the decision could be sent back to the minister to be reconsidered in light of the court's comments.

The process would likely take months.

Construction on the Higgins Mountain project is expected to begin this fall, and the judicial review application would not halt that.

The province has approved several wind farm projects over the past year as it tries to reach its goal of meeting 80 per cent of the province's energy needs with renewable energy by 2030.

Other projects have been proposed but have not yet been approved, including one near the community of Beaver Meadow on the border of Antigonish and Pictou counties, which was filed on Wednesday.

Allen-Johnson said Protect Wentworth Valley supports renewable energy.

"We're not against green energy. We just believe it has to be done in the right place in the right manner, and that's what we're trying to achieve."