ESSEX – County Council narrowly agreed Wednesday to spend another $10,000 on new studies to make sure internationally significant bird, bat and raptor populations aren’t harmed by looming wind energy projects.
However, some councillors complained that the Jones Consulting Group of Oakville, which is doing the county’s wind energy planning study, should have anticipated the need for the additional research.
“I’m just a little disappointed in the whole process,” said Leamington Mayor John Adams. He said he thought it was clear from the start that protection of birds, bats and raptors was going to be the major issue in the planning study.
Warden Nelson Santos responded that the consultants had warned in their preliminary report that additional studies might be needed.
The public consultation meetings in September raised questions about bird populations that need to be answered, said Santos, also mayor of Kingsville.
Comparing the process to an environmental assessment, Santos said if the county’s planning study isn’t definitive it could be challenged.
The additional research will only delay the final report about a month, Santos said.
The planners of all seven county municipalities, along with county planner Bill King, had all agreed the additional studies should be done, Santos pointed out.
“One study leads to another,” complained Lakeshore Mayor Tom Bain. LaSalle Mayor Gary Baxter and Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara were also reluctant to spend any more money on the wind energy planning study.
“Our research is too important not to spend the additional money,” countered Essex Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche. All seven municipalities will use the county’s study as the basis for dealing with rezonings and other approvals for wind energy projects, Meloche noted.
Jones Consulting released a 191-page preliminary report in September. Further public meetings are now likely to be set back to December when the additional research will be available, Santos said.
The county is trying to get its official plan updated to accommodate wind energy projects by early 2008.
Local municipalities can adopt more restrictive polices, but would have to meet the minimum standards approved by the county. Based on average wind speeds, much of Essex County is suitable for wind power projects, especially close to the lakeshore where speeds are typically higher, the Jones report found.
No specific buffer zones were proposed for such noted birding areas as Point Pelee, Holiday Beach or Hillman Marsh, but the Jones’ report said further studies would be needed to develop more specific policies.
By Gary Rennie
18 October 2007
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