As the blades continue to turn on an abandoned tidal turbine in the turbulent waters of the Minas Passage, no one seems willing to ensure there is monitoring of their possible effects on fish and other sea creatures.
On Friday, the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) denied it’s responsible for environmental monitoring close to the turbine even though the not-for-profit corporation is legally required as leaseholder to oversee the test site where the turbine was deployed on July 22nd.
Melissa Oldreive, who speaks for FORCE, said in an e-mail that Cape Sharp Tidal Inc., not FORCE, is responsible for monitoring near its turbine and for implementing a contingency plan to replace its environmental sensors which aren’t working.
“We are urging for the implementation of the approved program or contingency plans as soon as possible,” she wrote.
Oldreive said that FORCE has undertaken “a vessel-based hydroacoustic fish survey, which involves measuring fish distribution and densities around the turbine,” but she also confirmed that neither Cape Sharp nor FORCE has deployed an underwater platform equipped with sensors near it.
The sensor platform, known as FAST-EMS, was supposed to have been deployed 30 metres from the turbine by August 10 under a contingency plan approved by regulators at the Nova Scotia Department of the Environment (NSE) and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). The platform is designed to be connected by cable to shore-based computers to provide continuous monitoring of what’s happening near the turbine.
Earlier this year, the regulators warned both FORCE and Cape Sharp to improve environmental monitoring at the site assigning FORCE overall responsibility for ensuring that such monitoring is carried out properly.
To read the letters from NSE and DFO, click here.
In April, FORCE spokesman Matt Lumley said in an e-mail response to my questions that FORCE understood its new responsibilities, although he also wrote that Cape Sharp was developing a contingency plan for monitoring around the turbine.
To read Lumley’s e-mail response, click here.
Before deployment of the turbine, Cape Sharp and FORCE signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) outlining their respective responsibilities for deployment of the FAST-EMS platform, but Oldreive says she can’t reveal what’s in the MOU because “we keep contractual arrangements private.”
FORCE’s refusal to accept responsibility for underwater monitoring near the turbine comes as no surprise to Mary McPhee, FORCE’s former facilities manager who quit her job last December.
“There’s no question, they are responsible for the overall monitoring,” McPhee said in a telephone interview from her home in Parrsboro.
She added that previously, FORCE interpreted monitoring requirements to give itself the least amount of responsibility until the regulators stepped in.
“Finally this year, the regulators said, ‘No, you are responsible for all levels, like in some way you have to be responsible because if it’s within the site, you’re the leaseholder, so you need to be responsible within that space,'” McPhee said.
“They (FORCE) are being allowed by the regulators presently to duck this and it is a complete debacle, it is an embarrassment to the (government) policymakers and to the people who have worked hard on this project,” she said.
She added she decided to resign after more than six years at FORCE partly because of her concern that managers there weren’t serious enough about protecting the marine environment.
“What I felt were basic standards and what FORCE feels are basic standards are very different things,” she said. “I could no longer be part of that because it was beginning to affect my reputation.”