HALIFAX — A group representing 175 Nova Scotia fishermen appeared in court Thursday in a bid to stop a plan to test giant electric turbines in the Bay of Fundy — an ambitious project that has been on the drawing board since 2009.
The Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen's Association says the Cape Sharp Tidal project is based on "junk science" and should be put on hold until a year-long study can establish a scientific baseline for the state of the bay.
"The baseline science has been determined to be inadequate for the process," spokesman Colin Sproul said outside a Halifax courtroom.
"Therefore, any future effect of a full-scale installation would be vastly understated, and could lead to the decimation of the Bay of Fundy."
Matt Lumley, spokesman for the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy, said Sproul's position is not accurate.
"He's implying that (the federal Fisheries Department) believes that baseline data collected is inadequate — but that's false," he said, adding that the non-profit research lab has been conducting research and monitoring in the bay since 2009.
As well, he said the centre has spent over $15 million to date on 110 studies and developed three underwater sensor platforms.
"The most important questions we need to answer, in terms of viability of the technology, happen when the turbine is in the water, and (the federal Fisheries Department) shares that opinion," he said.
In June, provincial Environment Minister Margaret Miller granted approval for the installation of two, five-storey turbines for tidal power research.
"We did listen to the fishermen and their concerns," she said Thursday. "We did our job as a regulator."
Despite gaps in knowledge about the environmental impact of tidal power, the government has said the 1,000-tonne, slow-moving turbines are unlikely to have a "food processor effect" on marine life.
Still, the fisherman's association isn't so sure.
It has filed an application for a judicial review of Miller's decision, saying the minister acted unreasonably and failed to adequately consider evidence that suggests the project requires more study.
The association's application says the minister also failed to take into consideration the presence of species at risk near the test site.
Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge Denise Boudreau said a two-day hearing on the merits of the application would begin Feb. 1, 2017. As well, she said a hearing could be held on Oct. 20 if the association decides to file a motion seeking a stay the minister's decision.
Cape Sharp's 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.
The company's project is one of five aimed at testing different turbine technologies.
Cape Sharp Tidal spokeswoman Sarah Dawson said deployment of the turbines remains on hold as the company continues to consult with the fishermen and other stakeholders.
"We do not have a firm timeline or plan for deployment," she said in an email. "We called a voluntary pause in early June for additional engagement."
However, the fisherman's association raised concerns about Cape Sharp's commitments following the release of a published report Wednesday that suggested it was preparing to deploy the turbines in November.
"We're more than willing to keep talking with the proponent, but it's hard for us to accept that our talks are in good faith," Sproul said.
A spokeswoman for Nova Scotia's Environment Department said Cape Sharp Tidal has all of the permits and authorizations needed to install the turbines.
"The deployment schedules and methodology is up to the developer, provided conditions of approval are met," Krista Higdon said in an email.
Harnessing the awesome power of the bay's tides has been a work in progress since the 1600s.
There has been limited success. In 1984, a form of hydroelectric dam was built at Annapolis Royal, N.S., but the small, 20-megawatt plant remains only one of three tidal plants in the world.
In 2009, OpenHydro and Nova Scotia Power deployed a 400-tonne turbine in Minas Passage, only to see it badly damaged by crushing currents that travel at five metres per second.