Nova Scotia

Fishermen opposing the Cape Sharp Tidal project ask judge to suspend testing

A plan to test a giant electrical turbine in the Bay of Fundy is facing a new legal hurdle after a group of fishermen decided to seek a court order to suspend the project until a judge can review the case early next year.

The Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen's Association to appear in court Oct. 20

The Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen's Association said the court application is crucial because there is concern Cape Sharp Tidal's 1,000-tonne test turbine could be deployed this fall. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

An ambitious plan to lower two massive turbines into the Bay of Fundy, where they will be tested against the awesome power of the world's highest tides, has hit more legal turbulence.

A group of Nova Scotia fishermen will seek a court order to suspend the Cape Sharp Tidal project until a judge can review the case early next year.

The 175-member Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen's Association confirmed Tuesday that it will head to court Oct. 20, to seek a stay of a June decision by Nova Scotia's environment minister to approve the project's test phase.

'Critically important'

"It's critically important," spokesman Colin Sproul said in an interview. "If that turbine goes in the water in the Bay of Fundy (this fall) .... it will never be removed. That's why it's so critical for our case for the stay application to pass."

Cape Sharp's 1,000-tonne electric turbines are expected to be placed in the Minas Passage, a five-kilometre-wide channel at the east of the bay near Parrsboro, N.S., where tides left a smaller test turbine badly damaged in 2009.

The Nova Scotia government has said the slow-moving turbines are unlikely to have a "food processor effect" on marine life.

Judge to review decision

The fishermen have already secured a February court date to have a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge review the minister's decision, but Sproul said the group decided to seek the stay after Cape Sharp Tidal would not agree to keeping the project on hold until after the review hearing.

"That wasn't a commitment that we got," Sproul said, adding that the fishermen and Cape Sharp Tidal are still holding talks. "We're trying to move ahead in a collaborative manner to find a way forward."

A spokeswoman for Cape Sharp Tidal declined to comment on a case that is before the courts, but Sarah Dawson confirmed that the project remains on hold during a so-called voluntary pause.

Sproul said the company has told the fishermen to disregard an earlier published report that suggested it faced financial ruin if it failed to get a turbine in the water by November.

Cape Sharp Tidal is a joint partnership between Halifax-based energy services company Emera Inc. and OpenHydro, a subsidiary of DCNS, a French conglomerate that specializes in naval defence and energy.

Looking out for ecosystem

Sproul stressed that the fishermen are not opposed to the generation of renewable energy from tidal projects. Instead, he said his group just wants to make sure this project does not endanger the Bay of Fundy's marine ecosystem.

"Our whole point is that this turbine will do irreversible harm to the ecology of the Minas Basin," he said.

The group wants the project put on hold until a year-long study can establish a scientific baseline for the state of the bay.

Matt Lumley, spokesman for the test centre overseeing several tidal generating projects in the bay, said a turbine must be put in the water to answer a series of tough questions.

Effects on sea life monitored 

"Monitoring this technology in marine environments around the world has not shown a single instance of collision between turbines, fish or marine mammals and turbines," he said in an email from the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy.

"We are monitoring potential effects on the presence of fish, lobster, marine mammals, seabirds as well as changes in marine noise ... Even if there are effects during this test phase, those effects are not likely to be significant."

Cape Sharp's project is one of five aimed at testing different turbine technologies.