Bay of Fundy tidal project 'transparency' questioned

A group opposed to an experiment to capture power of the world's highest tides says the company behind the project is avoiding public engagement.

DFO scientist says Cape Sharp needs to determine effect of huge turbines on marine life

The plan to install two giant tidal turbines in the Bay of Fundy has been delayed again for final preparations and additional consultation with concerned stakeholders. (Andrew Vaughn/Canadian Press)

A group opposing a project to capture power from the world's highest tides says the company installing the underwater turbines isn't doing a good job consulting the public.

Cape Sharp Tidal Venture has been approved to launch two turbines in the Bay of Fundy's Minas Passage, home to endangered species, such as Atlantic salmon and white shark, and active fisheries.

That launch is delayed pending more work on the turbines, which the company says is opportunity to consult with the fishing community, spokeswoman Sarah Dawson said in an email Saturday. 

'Lack of transparency'

But a fishermen's group says the company won't hold a public meeting, instead offering to meet one-on-one in a "divide and conquer" tactic.

"We feel that the lack of transparency and meaningful inclusion in tidal energy development in Nova Scotia has led to all these problems," Bay Inshore Fishermen's Association spokesman Colin Sproul said. 

"We really would like to engage Cape Sharp Tidal Venture, but we just feel it's irresponsible to do it in an off-the-record, informal manner like they've requested."

Colin Sproul is with the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen's Association. (CBC)

Dawson, who declined an interview, did not answer questions about the nature of consultations.

Instead she said, while the company pauses turbine deployment, it hopes to have "meaningful dialogue with those who previously felt they weren't heard."

Environmental worries

Fishermen are worried about the effects of turbines on fish, fish habitats and various industries. The Mi'kmaq Rights Initiative wrote a public letter expressing similar concerns.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has said it believes the five-storey high turbines will have little effect on marine life, but can't be sure due to insufficient data.  

Workers walk past a turbine for the Cape Sharp Tidal project at the Pictou Shipyard in May. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The environmental effects monitoring program's information provides "only limited understanding of the potential interactions with the turbines or use of the site by marine species," said a June letter to Nova Scotia Environment from DFO regulatory review manager Mark McLean. 

That "could limit the ability of regulators to assess the potential impact."

DFO wants changes to project

DFO recommends improving fish tagging, lobster migratory monitoring, sonar and the dead animal tracking system, as the one proposed relies on the public reporting dead marine life washing up on shore. 

Also, the sonar monitors may not withstand high speed current's turbulence and noise.

"That's the two sides of this story. The attractiveness is the incredibly fast currents, the amount of water moving through there, which makes it appealing for an industry like tidal power," McLean said. 

"From a monitoring perspective, it makes it that much more challenging."

Company to act on recommendations

Recommendations in McLean's letter were in turn passed to the company. 

The improvements should be done six months to a year after turbines are put in the water, McLean said in a June interview.

"At the end of the day, if this industry has any hope of expanding at all, they're going to need to answer those questions about potential impacts on aquatic life," he said.

Dawson refused to say if the company would meet that deadline, but she said it will follow his recommendations.

Two turbines will be launched in the Bay of Fundy. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

If the deadline isn't met, DFO and Nova Scotia Environment have options to compel the company to comply, McLean said.

Cape Sharp Tidal does not have a date yet for launching the turbines.

About the Author

Rachel Ward

Journalist

Rachel Ward is a journalist with CBC Calgary. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at rachel.ward@cbc.ca.