A four-day Ontario Municipal Board mediation process into about 20 wind turbine towers and a second transformer in Amaranth began Tuesday morning with a warning from the hearing officer that nothing stated by the parties or participants should be disclosed to anyone not a part of the process.
“Things on the table without prejudice (are not to be) spread though the community,” said OMB Hearing Officer Dan Granger. “If trust is breached, the board has authority” to penalize the act of disclosure.
The basement hall in the township building at Laurel had been divided in half, with one half for the formal hearing and the other for round-table discussion among parties.
On confidentiality, Mr. Granger likened the process to pre-trial conferences for criminal cases, held routinely in judges’ Chambers, or to preliminary hearings in which publication of evidence is usually prohibited.
In what seemed an interesting description of the roles of mediation and of the OMB hearings, he described himself as being in “a facilitative role,” and encouraged the parties to seek ways to resolve “interests” rather than to stand firm on “positions,” as (hard and fast) positions would likely result in confrontation.
The description of mediation and, later, Mr. Granger’s statement that eventual decisions on Official Plans and zoning must be “consistent with provincial policy (as the Board) cannot go against what has been put in place by (a senior authority)” might have been old hat to anyone who’d attended any hearings, but would have been enlightening to some.
There are “positions” being taken into mediation, and most of those have emerged long before the advent of the OMB on the turbine scene.
Those positions generally fall into three categories: restrictions around air strips; other setbacks; and noise.
On airstrips, Amaranth has had a 10-km restriction around “airports.” Some pilots are classing the grass strips as “airports,” and have been vehemently opposing any change to the Official Plan.
Ian Reid, a former township resident and private pilot, was listed by Hearing Officer Norm Jackson last week as a witness for Roy and Teresa Brownell, parties to the hearings.
Canadian Hydro Developers, meantime, says it voluntarily agreed to a take-off and approach separation of 2,500 metres from each end of the runways, and to a (lateral) “transition surface” setback from each side of the runway.
“Our understanding from Transport Canada is that they do not regulate unlicensed / unregistered airstrips. Thus, we have voluntarily applied CARs TP312, Chapter 4, Table 4-1, Non- Instrument Code Number 1 to established setbacks from these features,” said a CHD representative.
It was not entirely clear prior to the mediation session precisely where the parties stood on setbacks. Generally, the industry standard is a multiple of the length of the rotor blades, depending on what the setback is from.
The concerns of some residents have appeared to be whether or not the standard setbacks are adequate for roadways, lot lines, and distances from residences.
The noise issue is most prominent among three neighbours of the CHD transformer substation, who are opposing site-plan approval for a second transformer.
They say the noise from one transformer has been excessive, although CHD says it has monitored within the 40 decibel Ministry of Environment limit at all receptors (homes).
Paul Thompson, a party to the hearings, has been most prominent in the transformer opposition.
He recently told an Amaranth council meeting that he had relied on CHD project manager Geoff Carnegie’s target of 32-dB, but had monitored as high as 60 when the transformers came online after a period of idleness.
From previous conversations, he might be expected to tell the hearings that a sound barrier erected by CHD has not had the desired effect.
Issues that had emerged prior to the opening of the mediation hearings include:
• Is the proposed development consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement 2005 (“PPS 2005”)?
• Is the proposed development consistent with the recently approved Township Official Plan and its policies governing these matters?
• Are the proposed modifications in the Official Plan Amendment appropriate and are they consistent with the policy framework of PPS 2005 and the Township’s approved Official Plan?
• Are there additional modifications required to the proposed Official Plan Amendment to deal with any of the issues as set out below and the resultant findings of the Board?
• Is it appropriate for the proposed development to be located on the lands selected given the climatology and atmospheric conditions in the Township, including consideration of such issues as the “tornado corridor”, freezing rain events, and the wake and turbulence effects on downwind lands?
• Is the cumulative impact of Canadian Hydro’s Melancthon I, together with the additional proposed wind turbines for Melancthon II, acceptable?
• Is the spatial distribution for the siting of the wind turbines appropriate taking into account atmospheric and meteorological conditions, viewscape, setbacks and land uses in the vicinity?
• What are the appropriate setbacks from communities, residential subdivisions and residential clusters, and how is a “residential cluster” to be determined?
• What are the appropriate setbacks from sensitive land uses?
• What is the appropriate setback from property lines and other sensitive features?
• What level of noise will be generated by the proposed development? What are the appropriate setbacks from receptors? Does the proposed development comply with the MOE noise standards? Are additional higher standards beyond those used by the MOE appropriate to be imposed on the proposed development? Should the rural noise standard be maintained in assessing any additional development, i.e factor out the ambient noise from previously erected wind turbines
• Is the proposed development within migration routes, feeding and breeding areas of birds, bats and wildlife and will the proposed development have an undue impact on the animals and such activities?
• What is the noise impact from the wind turbines on the health and safety of people and animals? What is the electro-magnetic impact from the wind turbines and the power lines on the health of people and animals? Will the proposed development have an undue impact on the health of people and animals?
• Is the proposed development sited on prime agricultural land, and if so, is that siting acceptable? Will there be undue impacts on agricultural lands, including damages to tile drains, and the crossing of municipal drains? Will underground cables be buried at an appropriate depth to permit continued agricultural activities? Is there an appropriate agricultural rehabilitation plan?
• Are the proposed properties for each wind turbine site appropriately located so that they may access a public road that may be utilized by construction and maintenance vehicles?
• Does the proposed development impact aviation activities, and if so, is that impact acceptable? Is the proposed development closer than 10 km to an airstrip? What constitutes an airstrip? Is Canadian Hydro proposed modification to change the wording from airstrip to airport appropriate, and if so, are other modifications required to the Official Plan Amendment?
• Are the visual impacts from the proposed development acceptable? Can those visual impacts be mitigated appropriately?
• What are the shadow, flicker or light reflection impacts from the wind turbines and are they acceptable, and can they be mitigated?
• Is the proposed development, including turbine locations 73 and 74, located on lands of low mineral aggregate potential, and if not, is the proposed development appropriate?
• Does the proposed development conform to the PPS 2005 and the Township approved Official Plan policies as being outside: Provincially significant wetlands; The habitat of threatened and endangered species; Significant forested lands; Significant valleylands; Significant wildlife habitat; Fish habitat; and Provincially significant areas of natural and scientific interest? If so, what are the appropriate setbacks?
• Are the location of the proposed access roads, power lines, and crane walk paths appropriate, and will they have an unacceptable impact on the natural environment, agricultural lands, agricultural operations, sensitive land uses, residences, and environmental lands, wetlands, natural heritage features, surface water features and ground water features? Can any of the proposed access roads, power lines and crane walk paths traverse through environmental lands, wetlands, natural heritage features, surface water features and ground water features?
• Is it appropriate to include in the planning documents the requirement for a construction protocol, including environmental inspection and signoff?
• Is the effect of the proposed development on municipal finances appropriate having regard for the policies of the Township Official Plan?
• Is it lawful or appropriate to include a policy in the Official Plan Amendment requiring an agreement to provide financial or other benefits to the Township as a condition of the Planning Act approvals?
• Is it appropriate to locate the second transformer on the existing transformer site? Does establishing the second transformer result in the two transformers complying with the MOE standards? Are additional higher standards beyond those of the MOE appropriate to be imposed on the transformers? Are additional mitigation measures required? What noise monitoring protocol should be established? Should the rural noise standard be maintained in assessing the proposed turbine with the noise generation from the
existing transformer factored out? Are there additional works required for mitigation or screening?
• Do the proposed wind turbine sites and/or easements for transmission routes through private lands require consents?
• Is there an undue impact caused by the proposed development including construction on the Township roads?
• Are the proposed Zoning By-law Amendments consistent with the PPS 2005; and in conformity with the approved Official Plan of the Township, together with any modifications that the Board may have to the Official Plan through the Official Plan Amendment and modifications thereto?
• Are the proposed Zoning By-law Amendments consistent with the Township Zoning By-laws and are there modifications required to either the Zoning By-law Amendments or Comprehensive Zoning By-law 69- 2004 to deal with any of the issues in the hearing and the resultant findings of the Board?
• If the Board finds that the proposed development is good planning, what is the appropriate form of the zoning by-law? Is a holding zone required and if so what matters should it address?
• What setbacks are required from vacant lots of record to ensure that the development potential of those lots are protected?
• Are the proposed site plans consistent with the PPS 2005; and in conformity with the approved Official Plan of the Township, together with any modifications that the Board may have to the Official Plan through the Official Plan Amendment and modifications thereto?
• If the Board finds that the proposed development is good planning, what are the appropriate conditions of site plan approval for the wind turbines and the second transformer, and what is the appropriate form of the site plan agreement?
By Wes Keller
20 September 2007