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Wind farm gets green light

Essex town hall packed as council approves rezoning for controversial project

Green or not, wind power continues to hotly divide the community.

With more than 70 people overflowing into the hallway outside, town council approved a rezoning request Monday for a $100-million project by AIM PowerGen for 24 giant turbines spread over about 1,400 acres of farmland roughly southwest of Harrow.

But before that councillors heard more than two hours of arguments from those for and against.

Supporters – mostly farmers with turbine leases – spoke of the benefits of renewable power with oil prices skyrocketing.

Opponents – mostly homeowners nearby – feared noise and property value declines in the shadows of 120-metre high turbines that could soon dominate the flat landscapes of Essex County.

Coun. Ron Rogers and Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche tried unsuccessfully to delay the rezoning until the County of Essex official plan amendments on alternative energy have final approval. They lost on a 4-3 vote, with only Coun. Randy Voakes supporting their motion.

Councillors were also split on the best minimum setback from turbines to protect homes that are not on the leased property from noise. Rogers argued unsuccessfully for a minimum 600-metre setback, similar to what’s been approved in Amherstburg.

Coun. Paul Innes made the motion that finally passed by a 5-2 margin, providing a minimum setback of 450 metres between turbines and homes outside the leased zone. Rogers and Meloche were opposed.

Innes noted municipalities like Lakeshore and Kingsville have already approved lesser 300-metre setbacks. Essex could consider a larger setback if needed for other projects, he said.

But Rogers said the town won’t be able to impose a stricter setback anywhere else, after agreeing to 450 metres in its most densely populated rural area.

Farmer Dean Martin argued councillors and residents were getting too worked up about noise.

The noise of tractors, irrigation motors, and crop dryers are now accepted as normal agricultural practices, said Martin.

“They’re bloody loud.”

Martin said the turbines that will go up on his family’s land should be also accepted in time as “simply part of the landscape.”

But Gore Road resident Colette McLean called for a full environmental assessment of the AIM project, with special attention to noise impacts on residents and loss of highly productive farmland to the project. McLean has already failed to convince the Ontario Ministry of Environment to order a full assessment, but plans to appeal to the minister.

AIM president Mike Crawley said the 24-turbine project wouldn’t require more than about one per cent of the land being leased. Crawley said the environmental screening done by his company was already the “most comprehensive” of all their wind turbine projects across Canada.

The reason for the interest in Essex County and Chatham-Kent by such developments is the consistent wind patterns which make this region one of the best in Ontario, Crawley said.

Crawley pointed out the project will generate about $300,000 annually in total lease payments to participating farmers and $81,000 annually in municipal property taxes.

But resident William MacCharles scoffed at how little the town was getting in taxes for a project affecting so many. “You’ve chewed up the whole countryside,” he said. “You’re getting nothing out of it.”

“We have to be responsible energy users,” said farmer Ted Gorski Jr., who urged approval of the rezoning. “Wind turbines are a very environmentally friendly solution.”

“This meeting is about change. Without change we won’t have a future,” said Gorski.

Gary Rennie

The Windsor Star

22 July 2008