Attempts by sign waving opponents to a wind energy project in Meaford to take over a public information meeting lasted only a few minutes before quietly dispersing.
Shortly before 6 p.m. on Wednesday evening about 50 members of Wind Concerns Meaford carrying placards entered the Meaford St. Vincent community hall where International Power Canada was holding a public information session on the Silcote Corners wind energy proposal to construct 26 industrial turbines in part of the former Sydenham township .
The protesters led by Jim Brunow and Nicholas Schaut, co-founders of the grass roots organization, demanded that someone from the company answer direct questions put to them by members of the group.
He threatened to have the meeting shut down if protesters continued their disruptive tactics and asked the protesters to leave.
At the height of the short but intense standoff Brunow diffused the tension by asking the protesters to withdraw to the hallway outside the community centre rather than have the meeting close down.
“They are going to shut this down unless we go outside; so we’re going to be in the hall. Anybody who would like to ask questions, we would be happy to answer them,” Brunow said as he invited his members and IPC officials to meet outside.
“We want to get people answers. They came here for answers and a lot of people are concerned and they’ve got legitimate concerns. (IPC officials) refuse to come and talk with us. We thought there might be a presentation and people could come to a microphone, ask questions and everybody could hear the answers to those questions,” Brunow said. Gafur said later that the company was fulfilling the requirements of the Green Energy Act by holding a public meeting and presenting certain information to the public.
“There are a number of things under the Green Energy Act that we have to answer and our (information) boards out there demonstrate and respond to those questions. We have our experts out there to answer questions and that is the intent of tonight’s program. We are meeting the requirements. As a company we are going well above when we do these meetings. We talk about layout, effects of sound, visual effects,” he said.
Brunow said later he was responding to a request by the OPP who were at the meeting to withdraw the protesters from the hall to prevent any possible conflict and having the meeting closed down.
The OPP “said if we continue to address them as a group that they would close the meeting down,” said Brunow.
Brunow said he was approached by the OPP public liaison branch in London before the meeting to discuss ways to keep the demonstration from getting out of hand and ensuring public safety.
Tim Sullivan, manager of field operations for IPC said they paid for two off duty police officers to keep the peace at the meeting.
Lloyd Bye left the meeting around 6 p.m. frustrated that he couldn’t get answers to his questions.
He wanted to know how many wind turbines were planned for other parts of the area by IPC.
“You can’t tell me there’s just going to be just one base,” he said.
He also wanted to know why the turbines were to be located on certain properties and was told that’s where the company had secured agreements.
Bye, who lives in Annan, said he’ll be able to see the lights of some of the wind towers if the proposed plan goes through.
“There’s no doubt I’ll see the lights at night up at the Irish Block. I live right in Annan but that’s only one concession up. It’s not far,” said Bye who was frustrated by the format set up by IPC officials that involved Bristol boards on stands around the hall describing various aspects of the project with experts present to answer questions.
“In our documents we discuss socio economic impacts, we’ll talk about bird migration, flora and fauna, species at risk, the design of the land access roads and that is the process. To have people hijack the meeting is not the intent of the meetings. They bastardize the intent of a public meeting. If they have legitimate questions I will answer legitimate questions,” Gafur said.
Schaut said despite the failure to get IPC officials to meet directly with the group members the efforts of protesters was successful.
“I think we made our point here. We walked in there; we requested that someone come forth to answer some questions but no one said a word. That’s fairly predictable because they don’t want to answer questions. We are all part of this community and we have a right to ask questions and to have answers. And they don’t a group of people asking questions at once. They want to take you aside and give you half bits and false hoods,” said Schaut.
“I heard many people as they were exiting say they were really upset because the company is not answering questions. They live in the targeted area and they are not getting answers.”
Throughout the meeting organizers with Wind Concerns Meaford were selling protest signs for $3.50 each to people as they arrived.
As well organizers were gathering names on a petition to the provincial government calling for a moratorium on any new wind energy projects until studies have been conducted to determine the health effects of wind turbines who people who live near them.
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