Some members of the Wolfe Island community have received notification that Minister of Environment John Gerretsen has recused himself from further decision-making regarding the proposed Wolfe Island wind farm. Ontario’s integrity commissioner advised Gerretsen that there could be a perceived conflict of interest. Premier Dalton McGuinty announced the appointment of Peter Fonseca, the minister of tourism, to assume the decision-making authority in regard to the project. Having submitted a formal appeal to the ministry requesting a review of the decision to deny an individual environmental assessment, I expect to receive timely notification of this development.
A resident who received Gerretsen’s May 29 letter was alarmed that he referred to the people requesting a review of the decision as “opponents of the wind project.” Gerretsen has steadfastly held to this characterization despite the fact that constituents have only been attempting to ensure that the wind-farm proponents adhere to an acceptable plan with appropriate siting, setback and noise control. The indiscriminate labelling of groups and individual residents as renewable energy opponents is beneath the dignity of our elected officials and only widens the divisions in an already deeply divided community.
There are many people on the island who have not spoken in support of residents who have been identified by the wind-farm company as “non-participating receptors” of noise, shadow flicker, visual disturbance and possible decline of quality of life if the windfarm project goes ahead. These islanders have serious concerns but have not spoken freely because of reckless accusations of Nimbyism in the community and the press.
There is an atmosphere of intimidation in this province stemming from the attitude that if you challenge or question the government or industry about a proposed alternative energy project, you are an opponent of renewable energy and have little regard for the future of this planet. The citizens of Wolfe Island who are questioning the wind-farm project are not against renewable energy. They arefor environmental responsibility.
I understand that the formal notice from the integrity commissioner states that she advised Gerretsen of her recommendation on May 6 . McGuinty notified Gerretsen on May 14. The information was released to the press on May 29, three days before Gerretsen was to announce his final decision regarding the requests for an individual environmental assessment. What was the reason for the 22-day delay in notifying the concerned constituents of this change in decision-making authority?
The taxpayers of Wolfe Island have many pressing questions about this belated decision.
* Will the newly appointed decisionmaker have enough time and resources to render an informed decision?
* Will all pertinent correspondence regarding the issues and concerns of Wolfe Island residents be made available to him?
* Is he sufficiently aware of the island’s unique community, culture, history and natural heritage?
* Will he come to understand an island community that is completely dependent on an over-stressed ferry system for police protection and access to hospitals, doctors, high schools, institutions of higher education, shopping, gas and oil deliveries, recreational activities and employment?
* Will the decision on the individual environmental assessment be delayed?
There are many outstanding environmental issues regarding the proposed wind project, and new environmental issues are surfacing almost daily. For example, on May 28 the project’s proponent requested an amendment to the zoning bylaw to allow the temporary use (for up to six years) of agricultural and rural land for maintenance and open storage facilities. The open storage facilities would require the removal of topsoil, the placement of geo-tile and compact gravel and the construction of a perimeter of chain-link fence and unspecified “lighting.”
The proponent denies hazardous materials would be stored on site but confirms that nacelles, housing lubricant and fuel would be stored at these facilities. The proponent and the municipal planning authority confirm that Lots 12 and 13 (7.4 acres) are the site of wetlands. There has been no assessment of ground cover and habitat.
A section of land on the former site of the Kraft cheese factory would be used for storage. Residents have asked the municipal government whether this land constitutes a “brown zone” under environmental legislation. The municipality has not yet responded. This site is adjacent to the Wolfe Island canal and wetlands, and there has been no investigation as to the effect these storage facilities would have -through the disturbance of potentially contaminated soil, leakage into wetlands and lighting -on the canal and wetland habitat. The use of this site was not specified in the environmental review report.
Recently, Lafarge Canada Inc. posted on the Environmental Registry a proposal to construct a temporary concrete batching plant on the island. We need to ensure that this project is planned safely and with the utmost regard for residents, the environment and species at risk.
Residents of the island are anxiously waiting for the minister’s decision. Will the Ontario government take a stand for Wolfe Island’s environment? Will the Ontario government grant residents’ request for an individual environmental assessment to ensure an impartial report on the environmental impacts of this project is produced? Will the Ontario government take a stand for responsible management of noise and sitings of windfarm projects to ensure a future for renewable energy projects?
3 June 2008
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