There’s no question what the No. 1 issue facing Neebing voters in the Oct. 25 municipal election.
A recent survey showed about two-thirds of the ward’s residents oppose Horizon Wind Inc.’s $75-million plan to erect 18 turbines on the Nor’Wester Mountain Range. And not one of the five candidates in the running for the coveted Neebing seat believes the project should go ahead as planned.
Gary Shchepanik, who last represented the ward in 2003, said the project should not be built with windmills facing the city.
“This is prime land to promote tourism, with Loch Lomond ski hill and the potential of a revival of the ski jump and cross-country trails in the future, just to name a few potential projects,” he said via email. “The city has spent considerable dollars promoting Superior by Nature and it is not an arduous task to balance business with our tourism sector.”
Shchepanik, who lists high municipal taxes as the other major issue in the election, said he’s not opposed to wind energy, but in this case there are other options available for developers to choose as a location.
Candidate Don Sinclair said he believes the entire process was flawed from the beginning. Residents were kept in the dark when Horizon first approached council, and that angers him.
“It makes me feel that we need a change,” Sinclair said Tuesday night at a ward-candidates forum at the Lakehead Labour Centre. “We have to have the people included in government decisions, especially people who it affects them directly in the Neebing Ward.”
Sinclair says there’s only one solution at this point.
“It should be stopped in its tracks and moved elsewhere,” he said. “That can’t be the only spot in Northwestern Ontario that can accommodate a wind farm. They have one in Dorion not near the residents. It’s out of sight, out of mind.”
Strictly opposed to the project is how Henry Wojak, a council regular, described his feelings toward the wind farm.
“It’s strictly for aesthetics,” he said, “because the view of the landscape will be destroyed.”
Like Sinclair, he wants the project halted, though for different reasons.
“It’s just a foot in the door for Big Thunder Wind Park,” he said, worried it will lead to more turbines being built down the road.
Coun. Linda Rydholm said any support she had for the project disappeared when Horizon decided to move the turbines too close to nearby residences and businesses – regardless of whether or not the distance falls within provincial guidelines.
“There’s a long list of other issues too – view-shed, financial, environmental, health, etc. etc., that are out there,” she said.
Rydholm said council has asked the developer for specific information and are awaiting a reply. Only the developer would know if the location of the turbines can be changed, but there’s no way she’ll support it as it stands.
“Council has final say on the view-shed and the location,” she said.
Bill Scollie, a former at-large councillor who is attempting a political comeback in Neebing, said from Day 1 the business plan has been flawed and threatens to impact taxpayers for years to come.
It’s not right, he said.
“Under the Green Energy Act, Thunder Bay Hydro will have to pay this southern Ontario millionaire developer $7 million. And every rate payer in Thunder Bay will be subsidizing this wind farm from Current River to Old Norway Road on Highway 61,” Scollie said, adding he’s concerned the contract doesn’t contain any provisions for the decommissioning of the turbines when their lifespan ends.
Scollie said he would like to see the developer eat the $7 million instead of taking subsidies from rate payers.
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