By David Judd
The Port Ryerse Wind Farm project has been delayed for another five months while the Ministry of Natural Resources continues to investigate the sighting of a rare barn owl.
A provincial tribunal reviewing the project has adjourned until March 31, 2015, to give the MNR more time to investigate if the endangered birds have been nesting locally.
For now, wind farm developer Boralex cannot do any construction work that might harm barn owl habitat.
The MNR has told Boralex that it will need a special permit to proceed with construction.
The permit would allow Boralex to disturb the owls’ nesting and hunting areas as long as the company is able to make things better for the owls overall.
Boralex proposes to build four industrial wind turbines on farmland east of Port Ryerse.
The Ministry of Environment approved the project in August.
Two residents filed appeals with the Environmental Review Tribunal, which has power to stop projects if they pose harm to people or wildlife.
The tribunal held one day of hearings in Simcoe on Oct. 6 then adjourned for a month after the MNR confirmed that at least one rare barn owl had been seen in the Port Ryerse area in July.
Since then the MNR has ordered the tribunal to delay hearings for another five months.
Barn owls are protected by Ontario’s Endangered Species Act.
The Port Ryerse sighting was the first anywhere in the province in about five years.
The MNR has started investigating to determine if the barn owl simply stopped in Port Ryerse on its way to a home elsewhere.
If that’s the case, the owl’s visit will not affect plans for the wind farm.
But if the owl had a mate and they return to nest again this spring, their presence may delay the wind farm’s construction for years.
Barn owls are believed to spend their winters in southern Ohio or New York State.
They have not been seen locally for close to three months.
At the moment, the wind farm project has two hurdles to clear.