Hearing about skydivers: lawyer

Two of Wainfleet Wind Energy Inc.'s completed wind turbines.

Two of Wainfleet Wind Energy Inc.’s completed wind turbines.

It’s not a question of if there’s going to be a serious accident between a skydiver and wind turbine, but when, Skydive Burnaby lawyer Eric Gillespie said Friday.
“We can’t afford to have one event because the effect is going to be very serious or fatal,” Gillespie told Environmental Review Tribunal chair Dirk VanderBent during final submissions at the hearing.
The hearing, which took place over three different weeks in Wainfleet, saw lawyers for Skydive Burnaby, Ministry of Environment and Wainfleet Waind Energy Inc. present witnesses to bolster their respective positions.
It came about after Skydive Burnaby filed an appeal over two turbines being built by Wainfleet Wind Energy on Station Rd. The turbines would be 1.5 kilometres west of the skydive facility, whose owners, Mike and Tara Pitt, are concerned over the risk to skydivers.
“We agree the focus is on turbines 4 and 5,” said Gillespie.
He said the central theme for the hearing was expert evidence and that it was dealing with subject matters outside of most matters that have come before it.
“The appellants (the Pitts) have provided you with the kind of expertise you are going to require to make a decision. This hearing is about skydiving and every expert we’ve called is qualified in relation to the subject matter.”
Gillespie said experts called by Aird & Berlis, representing Wainfleet Wind Energy, were risk assessors, and none were called by the Ministry of Environment.
“None of them, with great respect, know anything about parachuting.”
Gillespie said for the 10,000 jumps each year at the skydive facility on Burnaby Rd., there is a probability for 10 malfunctions. Something that all parties have agreed to in the hearing.
The lawyer said it’s enough of a risk to warrant the turbines not be built west of the skydiving club.
A skydiver, he added, would only have seconds to react if a malfunction occurred and there’s no way they could easily steer around the wind turbine, which stands 95-metres high, with 100-metre blades.
“The collision risk is very real … we’re telling you from the standpoint of having the only qualified experts,” Gillespie said.
Lawyer Scott Stoll, representing Wainfleet Wind Energy, owned by the Loeffen family and Tom Rankin of Rankin Construction, said the hearing was about wind turbines.
“To say this has nothing to do with wind turbines is completely misreading the statute and the job you’re here to do,” Stoll said to VanderBent. “We’re of the view this appeal should be dismissed completely and we’ve heard nothing from the appellants to change our minds in that regard.”
The lawyer said the appellants did not meet the statutory test that turbines 4 and 5 will cause serious harm.
Stoll said there was only anecdotal evidence to show skydivers could land in the area of the two turbines, which are on hold until a decision is made.
“In 52 years at this location, they could only come up with three people landing in that area.”
He said the company could alter jump runs and make changes to reduce the risks.
“Our experts said we can’t say there is no risk, but we can say the risk is small.”
Stoll said any ruling other than to allow turbines to proceed would be allowing Skydive Burnaby to expropriate Wainfleet Wind Energy’s property rights.
Ministry lawyer Nadine Harris said to suggest the hearing was only about skydivers was incorrect.
Harris said the tribunal had to ask about the reliability of experts in the hearing and how impartial they were.
“More importantly, did they provide material based on fact or material based on assumption.”
She said Gillespie suggested because the possible harm is so severe, somehow the test for serious harm should be different.
“What I heard him say to you that not even one possibility of serious harm is acceptable and that should somehow be the test. Of course there is no way one death should be allowed,” said Harris.
But, she said, the test laid out by statute is will cause serious harm.
VanderBent did not give any indication as to when a decision will be rendered.



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