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Hearing into wind project off to slow start; Debate over permissible evidence bogs down first day of proceedings

About 75 people jammed into the gymnasium of a small school on Wolfe Island yesterday to see the first day of proceedings of a long-awaited hearing into a controversial wind project proposed for Wolfe Island.

But the appeal by the Ontario Municipal Board, which deals with land disputes, got bogged down as soon as it started with debate about what evidence should be permitted.

Before the day was over, four witnesses who were supposed to testify for the citizens were struck from the witness list and will no longer appear before the hearing.

Dr. James Day and Sarah McDermott filed appeals with the board last January.

The Wolfe Island residents want to see changes made to the project proposal, which includes erecting 86 turbines on the western portion of the island over the next 18 months.

The $410-million project is expected to generate enough electricity to power a maximum of 75,000 homes.

Peggy Smith, who represents both Day and McDermott, said the appellants’ case focuses on the passing of the zoning bylaw by the Township of Frontenac Islands in November of 2006.

“There is no intention on the part of the appellants to [say] that there shouldn’t be a wind plant on Wolfe Island,” she told the hearing.

“Our issue is with the passing of the bylaw.”

The bylaw gives municipal approval to Canadian Hydro Developers Inc., a Calgary-based company, to erect the turbines and sets out distances the structures have to be placed from roads, homes and other buildings.

But Tim Wilkin, the lawyer for the Township of Frontenac Islands, told the hearing that some of the witnesses for the appellants were set to testify on matters that extended beyond the bylaw and the complaints outlined in the notice of appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board.

He asked OMB member Marc C. Denhez, who is hearing the appeal, to issue a motion that would formally limit evidence presented for the appellants’ case.

He asked that the testimony exclude all evidence that: relates to the conduct of the local township council; constitutes a critique of the draft Environmental Review Report; or isn’t directly related to the notice of appeal because those issues don’t fall under the purview of the current hearing.

Denhez didn’t agree it was necessary to pass a motion that would prohibit such evidence, but said the board would not admit evidence that could be considered unfair.

After a meeting of the lawyers, Smith agreed to remove four witnesses from her list. Though she agreed to dismiss the witnesses, she denied that their testimony would have included information not part of the appeal.

“This is a very costly process for my clients and it’s not in their best interest to delay the proceedings,” she told the hearing.

McDermott, who sat in the front row of the public gallery section, declined to comment to the Whig-Standard.

“There really isn’t much to say at this point,” she said.

Day, who hasn’t spoken publicly about his concerns, was present for a few moments at the start of the hearing, but then left because he is suffering from a throat infection.

He is expected to appear before the hearing later in the week.

In addition to the appellants and the Township of Frontenac Islands, representatives from Canadian Hydro and its subsidiary, Canadian Renewable Energy Corporation, were present with a lawyer for the hearing.

The five-day hearing resumes this morning at 9:15 a.m. at Sacred Heart School on Wolfe Island.

Jennifer Pritchett

The Kingston Whig-Standard

24 July 2007