NextEra freely handed permit to destroy Bald Eagle nest: FOI records

Have a good look at these recent and disturbing pictures posted on Canadian Raptor Conservancy’s Facebook.

  • Eagle Nest location: Port Ryerse
  • Wind Developer: Boralex

Flashback much?

Who does one go to when you see wind turbines installed this close to an active nest? You know it’s just a matter of time before the residents of that nest get added to this list of carcasses found in Ontario under wind turbines:

X 2009, Norfolk Wind Project – Bald Eagle

2012, Talbot Wind Project –Bald Eagle

2013, Talbot Wind Project – Bald Eagl

2014, Port Dover Wind Project – Bald Eagle

You want to help. The government makes all the rules and regulations for what any person/developer can do around important habitat like this, so they are the first you think of. Except… that they have a really bad track record on this.

Okay, lets say you go to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), as some good citizens did in November 2012. I’ll take you back there.

Warning, this is a long one, there is no other way to write it, so grab a drink.


***Last year I filed an Freedom of Information request with the MNRF for all correspondence relating to the Haldimand eagle nest destruction by NextEra Energy. I wanted to see what the hell was happening in their heads, and head offices. You can see all the files received from the FOI on this Google Drive: Bald Eagle Nest Destruction NextEra MNRF.

Somewhere around November 19th, 2012 the MNRF had it’s first glimpse at an issue they hadn’t dealt with before. Letters from residents in rural Haldimand County had landed on their desk – they were asking that the MNRF intervene with Florida based wind turbine developer NextEra’s construction around an active Bald Eagle nest.

The MNR wasn’t quite sure what to do. The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act said:

7.  (1)  A person shall not destroy, take or possess the nest or eggs of a bird that belongs to a species that is wild by nature.  1997, c. 41, s. 7 (1).

But there were also exemptions made for “special” people/corporations in need of favours:

(3)  Subsection (1) does not apply to a person who destroys, takes or possesses the nest or eggs of a bird described in that subsection,
(a)in accordance with the authorization of the Minister

Ah yes, and that was the dilemma the MNRF faced. This appeared to concern at least Erin in her query to her co-worker. But that’s the last “concern” you will see from this Ministry.

The public kept the pressure on, sending pictures and maps. Surely to God the MNRF would intervene and save the nest…?

That day, December 4th, the MNRF Manager asked Jim Beal and Joad Durst, “…how quickly we can we pull this (a response to the public) together”. They knew an eagle nest was protected under the Renewable Energy Act (REA) – if the nest was noticed during the Natural Heritage Assessment (NHA). But the company missed this nest in their NHA – was that as good as saying the nest “wasn’t there”? Should NextEra have to move their road and turbine plans now, they would have to go through the Ministry of Environment’s (MOE) amendment process all over again – and that would cost wind company time and money. NextEra wanted to build now, and they were going to get their way. 

By 4:30 the next day NextEra’s consultant AECOM contacted the MNRF – they wanted a teleconference set up that week to discuss their “options”. 

December 10th the Minister’s office gets it’s first briefing on this issue. Note the last Avian Use Survey was taken in 2008 – five years previous – yes, plenty of time for new nests to be built and not taken in consideration. They also seem to be concerned that the public and media will take an interest in this issue… 

Two days later it sounds like it’s settled – the nest will be destroyed. Even though MNR Jim says, “It’s NOT a done deal,” he goes on to ask about preparing conditions for the permit to destroy the nest. And Joad reminds him – the company’s consultants want to meet. 

While looking for info on this nest, they come across another eagle nest in Haldimand County, and they pass it on to the reviewers too.

By December 18th Joad seems to be getting anxious, “getting down to crunch time,” he says. Katie O’Connell notes Leslie, “knows this has to happen asap.” What’s the hurry? Did someone tell them this nest has to come down pronto? 

Yes, two days later they already have a permit approval written up for Nextera (who hasn’t even formally requested it yet). It’s ready to get signatures from all the “authorities” when the time comes. How can this be a done deal when NextEra hasn’t even put an application in yet? 
They even list reasons that removal of the nest is a good idea – in case we silly people would only think of it as a terrible idea…

Stop. Read those points above once more. These are the REASONS the Minister of Natural Resouces signed this permit! What it boils down to is they didn’t want to stall NextEra in their construction – that wouldn’t be fair.

Does this not ring true for what we felt with our homes, our nests, constantly being surrounded by more and more turbines? The government did everything in their power to help the wind developers remove us, “so the projects could proceed as planned.”

December 20th they are ready to get this thing signed and over with (still no application from NextEra) – the Minister is in the office. The urgency to get this done is stunning – has anyone else ever had this kind of quick service from the MNRF or any government office for that matter? 

Only one permit condition is added by the MNRF  – that NextEra destroys nest between January and February. The rest of the ‘conditions’ are just standard procedure for doing the meagre bird and bat mortality reports the MNRF requires.

AECOM/NextEra set up a teleconference with the MNRF for the next day:

They are preparing themselves for the public fury now. Get those Q&A’s updated pronto! The Deputy Minister wants this done today! Even though the public hasn’t been notified, they can envision what the pointed questions will be. It’s interesting to watch the MNRF make up excuses for this nest removal, to protect NextEra’s interest in ploughing through with their road and turbines. Nowhere do they actually debate the pros and cons – it’s all good, and I suppose it’s how they earned their nickname, “Ministry of No Refusals”.

The MNRF takes special care to mention that the bald eagle is only a “Species of Special Concern,” not Endangered or Threatened, so no special protection is given to them. And then, almost as a footnote, they add the the FWCA provides protection but the, “MNR has the authority to allow the removal of nests of specially protected raptors.” End of story. They have the power to destroy what they want, FWCA protections be damned.

It’s now Christmas Eve and the the MNRF is wondering where the nest destruction application is from NextEra. This is the weirdest kind of Christmas anticipation imaginable. Oh NextEra is taking their time – no worry, they know who holds the cards. 

December 28th – NextEra submits the application and notes (ahem…) that the MNRF needs to get on it, because of the “time sensitivity” of the issue.

The application has some important notes: The eagles were viewed in the nest on November 12th, and as late as December 13th, by their construction crew. The eagles were using the nest. But since the nest was possibly constructed after NextEra had their NHA done (way back in 2010), they were very much allowed to remove the nest. Basically if those so-called biologists didn’t see a bald eagle nest at that time, then it didn’t exist. The MNRF takes the wind company’s word for it – it’s easier that way.

Here NextEra discusses their 3 options in dealing with this pesky nest, essentially it boils down to:

  1. Go ahead and build the turbines 25m from the eagle nest (3 turbines within the MNRF 400m buffer). Apparently this was allowed without any MNRF authorization needed?!
  2. Remove the closest wind turbine, but oh, that would “jeopardize”their FiT contract with the OPA (yeah right, since when has that ever been an issue).
  3. Cut the tree down.

NexTerror went for Option 3. In the Port Ryerse case at the beginning of this story, they went for Option 1. How come neither company considered Option 2?

They also made the assumption that this nest was going to fall down soon. They are practically taking bets on it. And by assuming this is going to happen, then eaglets will be killed. And then you can assume again that if the nest is instead taken down, the eagles would build a much better nest, and (assumption needed again) everyone will live happily ever after. Sort of like how they push people out of their ‘sub-optimal’ rural homes – perhaps they will survive better elsewhere. 

I suppose it’s a good thing for NextEra that the Provincial Government works on New Years Day… don’t they? That’s when Joad Durst sends them their Permit To Destroy, around noonish. No holidays to be had when important corporations need their permits, in 3 days time.

So now it was time to start practicing their lines.
Repeat after me: “The nest had to be destroyed or eagles will be killed.” (Don’t think, just repeat). 

But don’t forget the two conditions. Get the nest down by Sunday, and let us know how the birds are doing by March… 

The night before the nest is destroyed, the MNR finally posts a notice for the public (who has been left in the dark the entire time) on the EBR. 


The public is now aware that this is going to happen, and are stunned. Is this for real? For me it was a typical Friday night when my dad (Harvey) called to tell me to have a look at this posting he had just pulled up on the EBR. He called down to Haldimand, but most residents were at a meeting that night. We all had a restless sleep that night.

Early the next morning he asked if I wanted to go down there with the video camera to at least show the rest of the world what NextEra was up to. I called my trusty accomplice Muriel, and the three of us made the two hour trek, arriving a blasted five minutes after the nest was cut.

Residents were lined along the road when we arrive, about a kilometre from where the nest was. They had been told they would be trespassing if they went any closer. Muriel and I grabbed the camera and walked in, over the snow drifts, to the destruction site.

I think we arrived maybe half an hour before this e-mail from NextEra’s Tom Bird was sent to the MNRF, with his concern that there were “armed” protesters there, LOL!

But the reaction from the MNRF is even more bizarre – “They need to focus on cutting down the tree – if the nest gets destroyed so be it”. I wouldn’t have thought their Ministry would be so gung-ho to destroy active eagle nest… but there you have it.

The nest is hauled away in a trailer the next day (Sunday), more trees are cut, so now the project can “proceed as planned”, thanks to some massive help from the MNRF.

But Monday morning panic mode starts to hit the MNRF office. The news outlets have heard, the video is posted and they need to prepare themselves to take the wrath. Letters like this are starting to arrive: 

Thankfully they are plenty ready with these talking points: 

And oh shit, there is also a “video” on OWR! That wasn’t in the plan…

Questions come from a journalist who seems to understand the issue a little to well for the MNRF. Throughout the FOI e-mails I found that the MNRF would say the nest was empty, and yet we know that NextEra had said it was occupied in December. The MNRF claims they didn’t attend the site because it was empty. I doubt that’s true. They knew the eagles were there, they just didn’t want to be there to take the heat from the public.

Seems like they are checking into actual ‘eagle facts’ to fill their knowledge gaps, after the fact. They call up ‘eagle expert’ Jody Allair at Bird Studies to get him onside. He helps them out with info. Funny, because by the time I had to do an Environmental Review Tribunal hearing several months later he flat out refused to give testimony on eagle habitat, claiming he wasn’t an eagle expert anymore. 

The MNRF sends out links to each other on the news stories that they will have to answer to:

But this one gets special noting – local MPP Toby Barrett says it “smacks of Big Money corrupting Ontario government procedure“. Well it sure would seem so. How else would this have ever flown if it was just Bob next door asking to cut down an eagle nest so he could put a barn there?

There is also the OPP wondering what is going on. The cop that was at the destruction site was confused – he didn’t know who to believe. We had a talk with Sergeant Ben that fateful day. He had been told that it was an old vacant nest. He was trying to reassure us that the eagles didn’t use it anymore. And yet we could tell that after awhile he wasn’t so convinced anymore. I mean really, why would they need 18 guys to take down an old nest that wasn’t used anymore? And why would people be THIS pissed off? 

This could also be why people were pretty upset. Consultation? None. Nada. Zilch.

 

And damn these people – now they are sending e-mails to the MOE! They have to send good old Doris Dumais the talking points to respond with too.

But this takes the cake. The reporter from Turtle Island News asks some simple, but pointed questions. They answer them all, negatively.

Most concerned residents received this letter ghostwritten for the Minister. 

NextEra even got in on the letter writing. This was in the Hamilton Specator. But remember how there were three options NextEra could have taken? NextEra says there were only two. Removing the wind turbines around the nest was never a true option for them.

The MNRF guys write up a letter as Mr. Minister to send to all you good people who are concerned about the environment. I take particular issue with Jim saying the eagles built their nest 20 m from a turbine. No, the turbines weren’t even constructed yet! Truth: the wind company was building their turbines too close to the eagle nest.

They need yet another House Note. “The province strives to achieve a balance between developing renewable energy while protecting wildlife.” Not once did that happen in this case. Not once did they even look at the cumulative impacts these machines are having on raptors. Not once did they even weigh the pros and cons. Unless they can show some evidence that wasn’t released in this FOI, this is the government blatantly lying to the House, and the public. 

It’s almost the end of the month and NextEra finally starts talking about platforms for nests. I love how the MNRF asks them, “Are you planning on monitoring?”. Hm, I don’t know, you obviously aren’t requiring them to, you are only politely asking them if they are! This is how they “work out the details afterwards,” I guess. It’s clear who’s in charge.

And this is their ‘plan’. 

In March they need another “House Note”. You can almost hear their exasperation: Won’t this nest issue DIE? 

The Ombudsman’s office is asked to investigate… interesting. But Joad steers him clear – this nest cutting business is just a normal days work, don’t you worry. All that matters is that the Minister had the “authority” to say NextEra could take the nest down. No reason need be given.

Mid March the MNR is still receiving e-mails from the public, demanding to know what is going on. They get the standard talking points and nothing more.

It’s even worse for these poor people when the public responds back to their talking points… and they have to come up with more “unique” replies. 

Finally Joad shows who pulls the strings in this last e-mail. Can’t distribute info without NextEra’s “okay”.

See that’s the odd thing here – NextEra is so quiet. They talk on the phone, they send in their lobbyists, their lawyers, they try not to leave traces. But the MNRF’s actions say what NextEra won’t – they tell of a company that has so much power they could get a permit to destroy a bald eagle nest in just a few days, without a single word of questioning or protest from the government.

They are a company that sued to silence this story and those that opposed their actions. They know how to wear government down. They know how to wear people down. And now they, and other wind developers, are bringing the birds and bats down too, every single day more die. “Ethical Company” –  like hell they are.

My dad passed away this December, at 67 years. I know he felt the stress of NextEra’s lawsuit against me more painfully than I did, and I wished it would go away for his sake.  On his final day I woke up on the mattress on the floor beside his bed at home. It was still dawn and I was beyond tired, getting up hourly to keep him comfortable for several weeks. So I just propped myself up on my elbows, high enough to see out the window to the bay, wondering where I’d get the strength for the day ahead. I know this could sound made up but just then a pair of eagles glided by, side by each, not flapping their wings at all, just silently moving across the water in front of me – so close I could see their eyes. With just their simple swift stroke of grace and strength, I knew I could face the day of immense loss.

This is why we fight to save wildlife, because they save us.

No, I don’t expect a corporation or a government to understand this. But I do expect the people that make up those corporations and governments to stand up and refuse to accept this crass culture of destruction that they participate in, with pre-made excuses and laws lined up to make it all legal. The one thing I’ve learnt out of this mess is that even if it’s ‘legal’- that doesn’t make it right.

~Esther Wrightman

11 thoughts on “NextEra freely handed permit to destroy Bald Eagle nest: FOI records

  1. God bless you, Esther! So thorough and well-presented.
    Hopefully, your strength and example will encourage others to stand up and fight for what’s right. Your father would be proud.

  2. That was an amazing read. There are so many things wrong on so many levels. I imagine the same type of government/ corporate collusion is used on a regular basis in destroying our “nests” – our homes, our security, our health, non-compliant noise etc. How do these people sleep at night? This tale of destruction elicits so many emotions – betrayal, sadness, anger. You are a brave woman Esther Wrightman and you lead by example! Well done!

  3. Thanks Esther!

    ——————————————————————————————

    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Updated Sept.25, 2015

    Bald & Golden Eagle Information.

    “Bald and Golden eagles are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Act.”

    https://www.fws.gov/birds/management/managed-species/bald-and-golden-eagle-information.php

    Ontario government thinks it has authority over and above the Migratory Bird Treaty?

  4. When the people who are paid to work within ministries of our government, can’t figure out how to protect human lives after years of pleas for protection from people who no longer feel safe in their homes because of these turbines, it’s no surprise that they can’t figure out how to protect other life forms.
    Exposing all of this with information received through FOI requests is crucial. Esther, your enormous effort will one day soon lead to a breakthrough.

    When people fully realize that ‘saving the planet’ alarmism backed by falsified data was used to justify this harm, they will be rightfully enraged.

  5. We cannot go on like this taking wildlife for granted and putting our human needs so far ahead of those creatures in the natural world. If we keep this up, we will soon be wondering what happened to all of the other things that make life worth living on this threatened planet.

  6. The sad part in all this is the fact that this nest removal was done in the name of saving our natural world. Great job! Esther and done @ a an emotional time during your Dad’s passing. Thank you for having the fortitude to go through this pile of $%@#. Now what can we do with this???

    • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also mentioned in the IEA USA “Winning Hearts and Minds” report.

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