Whenever there is an overflow crowd at a municipal planning session – with some watching the debate on closed-circuit television – the issue has to be of considerable importance.
Wind energy surely struck a nerve in Chatham-Kent and has been responsible for numerous letters to the editor, public forums and even T-shirts.
However, this is all a positive sign, according to Ralph Pugliese, the municipality’s director of planning.
“It means the community’s involved, they’re engaged and that they care,” he said. “And we care. We’re certainly not cavalier about how we’re doing this.”
Wind proponents have mentioned the need for alternative energy, while detractors expressed concerns over the environment, health, noise and property values.
Tom Storey, of Storey Samways Planning, admitted that turbines have had a polarizing effect in Chatham-Kent.
“This has been divisive,” he said. “A lot of people who are opposed to this, many of them are very good friends of mine and some are former clients.
“It’s been hard on everyone.”
But despite these clashing opinions, Storey called it important for people on both sides of the issue to be proactive.
He said it was an example of democracy at work.
“Compared to some of the other controversial issues I’ve been involved in over the years, the debate was at a high level,” Storey said. “People have been respectful of other opinions, but were passionate about their beliefs nonetheless.”
Among those passionately opposed include Ridgetown resident Monica Elmes, from the Chatham-Kent Wind Action Group. The organization consists of a handful of local citizens, some who have attended wind company open houses in order to hand out literature to patrons.
Elmes said “appalled” would be an accurate word to describe the current mood of the group.
She was especially disappointed council didn’t have much time to actually debate the Gengrowth application in April, after there were numerous public submissions. She doesn’t believe due diligence was followed to consider the long-term impacts.
“We’ve had health concerns expressed by both local and non-local doctors,” she said. “And I think there are a lot of issues the general public is not aware of.”
Elmes said having greater setbacks could alleviate much aggravation later on. She also believes wind projects might be beneficial on a smaller scale, with households taking responsibility for their own energy needs.
“That would be wonderful,” she said. “You’re not imposing on anyone at that point.
“I still feel there are lots of other things we could do as a municipality rather than become known as the wind turbine capital of the world.”
However, there have also been many residents looking forward to seeing turbines in operation.
Jim Desat, a Wallaceburg resident and former mayoral candidate, is a vocal supporter of wind energy, even presenting to council during the Gengrowth application.
He believes the issue is being handled appropriately in Chatham-Kent.
“I’m happy with the way it went,” he said. “We need to start using alternative energy.”
Desat said potential wind impacts should be looked at and mitigated, instead of rejecting the technology outright.
As for health worries, he said other energy sources have a far more negative impact than wind.
“You’ve got people who are having health concerns over the coal-burning plants too,” he said.
Storey said the environmental screening report (ESR) is a significant process that all wind companies must undertake. He said planners went to council with confidence that environmental issues were properly addressed.
While residents are encouraged to comment on an ESR, Storey added they may become overwhelmed and not know where to start.
“The problem for the general public is that the system is very confusing – and I don’t blame them for being confused,” he said. “It’s hard to manoeuvere through these things.”
Pugliese also had faith in the ESR process, but said the goal is to always strive for improvements.
He believes the community’s reaction to wind farms was understandable given the magnitude of the situation.
“When anything new on the landscape comes up, I think people should ask questions,” he said. “One of the principles behind the planning is that we have this public interaction.”
10 June 2008
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