Fort William First Nation community members have given a firm and loud rejection to the Big Thunder Wind Park development plans.
“Look at the crowd – this isn’t over,” said Wyatt Bannon, pointing out the more than 200 people from the community and Thunder Bay who protested Horizon Wind Inc.’s proposed plans to build 16 wind turbines on the community’s traditional lands south-west of Mt. McKay during the company’s May 30 meeting at the Fort William First Nation Community Centre. “I think we sent a clear message to (Horizon). We don’t want them and we are going to stop them.”
Horizon had set up the two-hour meeting to deliver a presentation on their plans, which call for the eventual development of 16 wind turbines to produce 32 MW of clean and renewable energy for more than 9,000 homes. The first phase of the project calls for the construction of eight wind turbines, which would produce 16.5 MW of power.
Community members stood up at the beginning of the meeting and prevented Horizon representatives from delivering their presentation while they brought up a number of their concerns, including possible impacts on Mt. McKay and the community’s reserve lands and traditional lands from blasting, land clearing and construction of the wind turbines as well as the operation of the wind turbines. Mt. McKay is a sacred site that continues to be visited by people from across Turtle Island.
“As the custodians and keepers of this mountain, it is our responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen and to protect it for everybody who uses it,” said Fort William band councillor Georjann Morriseau. “We do berry picking, naming ceremonies, we offer our offerings to the Thunderbird and the keepers of the water. People come from far and wide to visit that site right there.”
Concerns were also raised about possible damage to the waters of Loch Lomond, a spring-fed lake located behind Mt. McKay near the proposed development. Loch Lomond had been a source of municipal water for the City of Thunder Bay until 2008. Some community members asked if blasting would affect Loch Lomond’s water levels.
“There is a pristine water source up there – Loch Lomond,” Bannon said. “That needs to be protected.”
Possible impacts to moose migration routes in the area were also raised during the meeting.
“Their first stage of the project will cut a path straight in the middle of a moose corridor, where all the moose come from,” he said. “It’s going to devastate the moose hunting.”
Bannon and many of the community members believe the area’s moose populations will suffer if their migration routes are disturbed. Many families in the community rely on moose as a food supply.
“They feed their families, they feed the community with that meat,” said Morriseau. “We need the moose to continue to thrive and continue to produce for our people.”
Although the Horizon representatives left the meeting without providing any immediate comments, comments were e-mailed the next day expressing concerns that community members had been misinformed about the project.
“I was particularly surprised at the response from the community given that Fort William First Nation has been pursuing their own renewable energy projects for some years and is known to be a progressive community,” said Anthony Zwig, CEO and president of Horizon Wind Inc., in the e-mailed comments. “I do however believe that there is a way forward and we want to start by ensuring that people get the opportunity to receive accurate project information. Only then can they truly make their own decisions whether they are in support or against the project.”
Fort William First Nation recently signed an agreement with SkyPower Limited, Canada’s leading developer of solar energy, for development of a 10-megawatt solar park on its lands.
Horizon addressed some of the community’s concerns in the e-mail, noting they have moved turbines three football fields away from Loch Lomond, they have identified moose habitat was four kilometres away from the nearest turbine, and blasting will be designed, checked and approved by a qualified engineer to ensure safety and proper procedure.
The company was also concerned that its project coordinator was denied the opportunity to make a presentation at the meeting explaining the project, its location and its potential impacts.