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Anti-turbine group: Ministry played games

by David Meyer

MAPLETON TWP. - The Stop Mapleton Wind Farms group has asked council here to help in its appeal of the approval for NextEra Canada’s wind farm southwest of Arthur.

John Krul said the approval came two years to the day after NextEra’s public meeting in Moorefield and his group wants help to fight provincial approval of a ten-turbine wind farm.

Sitting in to hear that delegation was county Warden Chris White, chief administrative officer Scott Wilson and county planning director Gary Cousins.

They had been part of an earlier county delegation, but since the county has taken a stand on wind farms, they remained to hear the residents’ complaints and later sat in on the legal discussions with council in a closed meeting.

Krul pointed out council had just heard from the county delegation that agriculture is a leading industry in Mapleton and the county.

“That makes it important not to shoehorn wind farms in there as well,” Krul said.

One thing that had him particularly upset is the provincial Ministry of Environment’s (MOE) method of doing business. He said his group had one meeting with the ministry in the summer, and had been promised another one.

Instead, on Dec. 8, a member of his group was speaking with the MOE’s director of approvals late in the afternoon, and she gave no hint that NextEra’s application to build would be approved that afternoon.

He said the approval document was a 13-page report, so she should have known the approval was coming, but simply did not let on to a member of Stop Mapleton Wind Farms what was about to happen.

Krul called that “a slap in the face” to those opposed to the project. He told council after watching county slides about Wellington County during a previous delegation, “I’m proud to be here. We don’t want Wellington looking like Dufferin County, like  Shelburne.” That area has dozens of wind turbines across its rural landscape.

Krul wondered if council continues to support his group in its opposition.

Councillor Jim Curry said to the best of his knowledge, nothing has changed. “We’re holding steadfast.”

Mayor Bruce Whale agreed “That is still our stand.”

He said the township has commented on the NextEra proposal to the ministry, and added, “We were a little bit surprised as well when the answer was made.”

However, NextEra spokesman Nicole Geneau had been to a council meeting in November and said she expected the decision would come down before the end of this year.

Some turbine opponents were also furious they had only 15 days, to Dec. 23, to decide to mount a legal appeal, which, they said, is a costly issue.

Whale said the crux of the matter has now become “on what basis do you challenge it to be successful?” He said the need is to identify a weakness in the approval process.

Whale said the township had launched a request for a moratorium on all approvals until health studies had been done. About 80 municipalities have supported that resolution.

He noted that in an appeal in the Chatham-Kent area, the courts did not uphold the complaint on health issues (but it also did not state that health issues had no effect at all). Whale added there will be ongoing health studies but that could take “five to ten years.”

Krul said there are many inconsistencies from the MOE in the application. When the group complains about NextEra’s proposals to the MOE, the government ministry informs the company and it then makes changes.

One resident said of the MOE, “We don’t think they follow their own procedures.”

Another said the MOE is currently “under fire for their new website. It contains almost fraudulent information.”

Another said there were no public meetings after NextEra made numerous changes to its proposal in September, so the public had no chance to comment on what was finally approved by the province.

That questioner noted the changes were to the location, the transmission lines, the communications tower and access roads, and “except for four turbines” everything had been changed.

Krul said, “It seems to me the MOE is pandering to the wind industry.”

Whale said timing is critical, and the township might use county lawyer Peter Pickfield, who has already reviewed many of the documents in the case, “to see if there is a chance of an appeal.”

He added council would decide about an appeal “on his advice.”

Krul said if anyone files a notice of appeal, it would not take place for two or three months.

Councillor Andy Knetsch asked if there can be an appeal based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Wind farm opponent Donna Weaver replied the ombudsman is working on that, and there are possibilities of appeals under the Environmental Bill of Rights and the Environmental Protection Act at the federal and provincial levels.

But, she said, “No one at the ombudsman’s office seems to know.”

Krul urged council to support the group and said, “Everyone is watching this area.” He explained that is because this is the first project to obtain its approval since the province passed its Green Energy Act.

Curry said there might be grounds for an appeal under technical issues, and he has talked with MP Gary Schellenberger, who told him there might be some federal protection. Curry said there are health implications, and “We may have federal law step in.”

Krul said as much as the wind industry denies it, companies have “bought up” homes of people who became too ill to live in them, but in Mapleton it is not possible to sell out because, “It’s not possible to move a farm.”

Another said Eric Gillespie, the lawyer representing wind turbine opponents in Chatham-Kent “feels we have a strong case.”

But Whale said the Chatam-Kent appeal was unsuccessful, and that wind farm “still went ahead.” There is currently a lawsuit started, within a few weeks of  the project’s start-up.

One resident said Mapleton council should meet with Pickfield and Gillespie before deciding which approach to take, and asked if the township will support the group.

“We have to know if we’re on our own - if township council is with us - or if the county council is with us.”

Another resident said there are over 100 homes within 1,500 metres of the proposed turbines and, “We’re asking for protection of our health and our livelihood.”

Knetsch said he is concerned about decommissioning plans if the turbines go in. He noted the company has no plans to remove the rubber on the transmission lines, which he likens to putting tires in the ground - something the province does not allow.

Another resident reminded council that NextEra, through Bell Canada, has already started putting in underground infrastructure without the township’s knowledge or a permit.

Whale said that was “Bell’s negligence.”

The protesters told council they could take hours to cite the inconsistencies in the NextEra application.

After the delegation was completed, council and county representatives huddled in a closed meeting for nearly an hour. Mapleton council then decided to hold another closed meeting on Dec. 19 to decide if they would launch an appeal.

 

December 23, 2011

 
 

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