Until a few months ago, one would have been hard pressed to find any sort of organized opposition to the mega-wind project proposed for Wolfe Island.
Times have changed.
These days, it’s hard for some local residents to recall a more divisive issue in the recent history of the tight-knit, pastoral community.
Residents with concerns about the location of the 86 steel turbines have formed an action group they’ve called Wolfe Island Residents for the Environment – or WIRE.
The group has been attracting new members.
The group has opened an office on Main Street in Marysville across from the General Wolfe Hotel to further increase its visibility in the community.
Its members, who include long-term and newer residents of the island, hope that local people and visitors will stop into the converted house to find out more about the project.
Canadian Hydro Developers Inc., a Calgary-based company, is planning to erect 90-metre turbines at various locations along the western portion of the island. The project will cost an estimated $410 million and will be one of the largest wind farms in the country when it’s operational sometime in 2008.
The turbines are expected to generate a maximum of 198 megawatts, or enough electricity to power 75,000 typical Ontario households.
The opposition group, which says it has more than 100 members, insists it isn’t against wind turbines coming to the island, but maintains the planned locations for the massive structures are all wrong because of their proximity to an existing wetland, homes and a flight path for migratory birds.
Gail Kenney, one of the founding members of the group, said she’d like to see all residents asking more questions about the impact of the project.
“Families are being split by this,” she said. “Some family members have entered into secret lease agreements [with Canadian Hydro Developers Inc.] and other members have found out about these leases when they learned there was going to be a turbine next door.” She hopes Wolfe Island Residents for the Environment (WIRE) will unite people.
Kenney, a retired school teacher and 46-year resident of the island, said the project is tearing the community apart.
There have been numerous heated township council meetings, the most recent of which was held on Monday night. As many as 70 residents tried to jam into the council chambers – half had to wait outside because they couldn’t fit inside – to listen to members of the WIRE group and two local people in favour of the project. For months now, the turbines have been the topic of conversation on the island.
As testament to the tension around the village, the group had to change locations for their office. The first location didn’t work out because the property owner removed the printed material members had posted on the windows.
Group member Sarah McDermott said the owner didn’t agree with the group’s stance on the project. He returned their $500 and they moved into an older house down the street after a resident offered to lease it to them for $1.
She said some island people have referred to the information the group disperses as “propaganda.”
McDermott feels some people view her as the troublemaker because the environmental group was formed after she launched an appeal of the project with the Ontario Municipal Board.
McDermott, who has lived on the island for 14 years, is one of two residents who’ve gone to the provincial board that deals primarily with land use and planning disputes.
She is taking issue with the passing of a bylaw by the Township of Frontenac Islands in November 2006 that establishes setbacks, the distance between the 90-metre-tall turbines and homes and wetland areas. She would like to see the setbacks larger.
The hearing with the board is to take place July 23 on Wolfe Island. If the board rules in favour of McDermott, the project could face significant delays.
She said some residents who’ve leased their land for turbines won’t look her in the eye. “People don’t make eye contact because they think I’m denying them their money,” she said.
McDermott said her group doesn’t want to see the character of the island change because of the turbines and many of their concerns are shared with nearby communities.
14 July 2007
[Note: Click here for an accompanying article about supporters of the wind turbines (namely, those landowners who will profit).]
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