ESSEX – “This is war,” is the way Amherstburg resident Mick MacCorquodale describes the looming legal fight against 120-metre-high industrial wind turbines popping up near his home and across the county.
Essex County council hasn’t even approved its alternative energy planning policies yet, but MacCorquodale is already gathering support to appeal them to the Ontario Municipal Board.
Any appeal would further delay the more than a dozen wind farm projects being proposed at locations throughout the county.
MacCorquodale put an ad in several county weekly newspapers recently, looking for others to chip in money to hire both a lawyer and planner. Several have agreed to join so far, he said.
Noise, vibration and declining property values are MacCorquodale’s main concerns. He’s been trying to sell his home on Conc. 6 in Amherstburg for two years – ever since he found out Toronto-based gengrowth planned a five-turbine project on farmland across the road.
MacCorquodale said a real estate agent has warned him to expect a 20 to 40 per cent fall in value if the turbines get built. He says he has to disclose the possibility of large turbines locating nearby to possible buyers or risk a lawsuit later.
County council is expected to pass the third draft of its official plan amendments on alternative energy projects Wednesday after a year of study.
MacCorquodale doesn’t see much in those amendments that will help him.
In a report, county planner Bill King said the amendments strike a balance between those – like MacCorquodale – who think the policies that set out the rules for locating wind farms are too permissive and those who think they’re still too restrictive.
“As council is aware, approval of these policies in a timely fashion is extremely important for energy development companies that are looking to invest in Essex County, and the next steps in the approval process must be allowed to begin,” King recommends to the county.
MacCorquodale is convinced lobbying by wind farm developers has whittled down the protections for many homeowners that were in the first draft of the planning policies last December.
The obvious missing piece is anything in the county plan setting a minimum setback from homes to the biggest turbines, MacCorquodale said. Instead, homeowners have to depend on Ontario Ministry of Environment noise guidelines for protection.
MacCorquodale said he’s yet to receive information from either the developer or the ministry about the noise levels he could expect from the turbines. He’s frustrated with the entire environmental assessment process, which he says keeps citizens in the dark about what’s going on.
County Warden Nelson Santos, also mayor of Kingsville, said the intent of the county’s amendments is to leave the issue of minimum setbacks between homes and turbines to individual municipalities.
Local municipalities that have completed their own alternative energy planning regulations don’t seem to agree on what the appropriate setback should be. Amherstburg has established a minimum setback of 600 metres, while Kingsville and Lakeshore went with 300 metres.
MacCorquodale and other residents involved in the Essex County Wind Action Group are looking for much tougher setbacks from homes of one or two kilometres. They also want a 36-metre height limit.
Those restrictions, if approved, would eliminate many of the more than dozen proposed wind farms in the county.
Amherstburg lawyer Anthony Leardi, who’s agreed to take on the OMB appeal for MacCorquodale and others, says local municipalities should be taking the risk of falling property values seriously.
“I’m quite sure they (turbines) will have a negative impact on property values, Leardi said.
Once approved, the county’s official plan amendments must be submitted within 15 days to the Ontario Ministry of Housing. The ministry can approve them, amend them or reject them.
Appeals to the OMB could be launched at that point.
By Gary Rennie
3 June 2008