Representatives from 12 municipalities met at the Seaforth arena last Tuesday to discuss whether or not they wanted to support a test bylaw that would regulate low frequency noise (LFN).
And, after hearing Huron East solicitor Greg Stewart explain how such a bylaw would be created and its anticipated cost of close to $60,000, municipalities from Norwich to Melancthon to Saugeen Shores returned to their councils in hopes of bringing an answer back to Huron East by the end of December.
“We couldn’t get the full councils here so this was an information session to see if they were interested. We’ll be waiting to hear if they’re willing to join the test case. I know some people will think we’re not moving fast enough and it’s not that we’re scared – we just have to do it right,” said Huron East Mayor Joe Seili after the meeting.
Stewart told the municipalities, including representatives from Central Huron, South Huron, West Perth, Wellington, Norwich, Bluewater, Huron-Kinloss, Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh, Saugeen Shores, Melanchthon and Arran-Elderslie, that Huron East is proposing a test bylaw to regulate low frequency noise after receiving concerns from community members about the health problems caused by industrial wind turbines.
Stewart explained that since the province’s Green Energy Act has removed municipality’s authority under planning legislation about the siting of wind turbines, they are left with the Municipal Act’s section allowing municipalities to regulate public nuisances, noise and vibrations to protect their residents’ health, safety and wellbeing.
“The words and opinion of council are important because if the bylaw is arrived at in good faith, it’s not reviewable by a court,” he said.
Stewart warned that the bylaw cannot target wind turbines specifically but would need to include any industrial “noise emitter” in the municipality.
“We can’t thwart the actions of a particular group or the court will strike it down. It has to be pervasive across the board,” he said.
Stewart suggested that the bylaw would first need an engineer’s study to determine noise levels in residential, industrial and commercial areas, near wind farms and other sources of noise.
“We will have to satisfy a court that there’s a nuisance and have to establish a baseline to be able to enforce the bylaw,” he said.
He added that engineering evidence might have to be tied to health impacts.
Stewart estimated that the costs might include $10,000 to $20,000 for the engineering and health studies, $5,000 to prepare the bylaw and another $15,000 to $20,000 to have the bylaw tested in court. If the bylaw is appealed, he added another $15,000 to $20,000, saying the whole process will cost between $35,000 to $45,000 if there’s no appeal and $50,000 to $60,000 if there is an appeal.
“You can give it two readings before it’s referred to court to obtain an opinion to show it falls in the jurisdiction of the municipality. It could involve the province if they feel you’re invading their territory,” he said, adding that the cost is a difficult thing to pin down.
Bluewater Mayor Bill Dowson expressed concern that grain elevators in Hensall might be effected by a LFN bylaw, pointing out that even tractors can make a lot of noise in the community.
“If none of our elevators can meet that bylaw’s regulations, we have quite a problem,” he said.
“We could be opening up a can of worms if we’re shutting down tractors and grain elevators. We could really make a mess,” added Barry Millian, of ACW.
Millian suggested the municipalities band together and lobby the provincial government to regulate low frequency noise in the Green Energy Act.
Pam Stanley, of Central Huron, pointed out that she’s also worried about a feed mill in Clinton and whether it would be affected by a LFN bylaw.
“Where in the world is there a LFN bylaw that is enforceable,” she asked, to which Stewart responded that he did not know.
Engineer Bill Palmer, who lives in Saugeen Shores said the bylaw could be crafted to look at the duration of a noise.
“If you’re combining one day a year, that’s a different case from a noise that continues for seven days,” he said.
Andy Flowers, of Huron East, said he was concerned about the good faith element of the bylaw since public meetings have already been held focusing on wind turbines and low frequency noise.
“We just opened up a challenge right there,” he said.
Stewart clarified that there was no reason to pass a bylaw until a noise emitter like a wind turbine, came into the municipality.
“The legislation allows you to address an issue due to nuisance, noise and vibration. It’s a delicate thing but you can do it,” he said.
Susan Hampstead, of Norwich, wondered about the timeframe of the bylaw’s completion, pointing out that two wind projects are looming in her municipality.
“We are talking months rather than weeks,” responded Stewart, adding the process would likely take six months.
Don Murray, of Huron-Kinloss, said there are 10-15 people in his municipality who have had to move out of their homes because of health concerns related to wind turbines and Mark Davis, of Arran-Elderslie, said there are people who live near wind turbines in Huron-Kinloss who have “safe houses” in Arran-Elderslie where they come to sleep.
“It’s easy to be negative about this bylaw but we’re all doing our best here. We can find $60,000 pretty fast in our municipality and we’re a pretty small municipality,” said Davis.
Bill Siemon, of Huron East, said the cost would not be $60,000 for each municipality.
“We have to look after the people who can’t look after themselves. If we don’t go ahead, we’ve really missed the boat by not trying,” he said.
Taun Frosst, of Saugeen Shores, suggested that each municipality do its own testing for sound levels and then band together to share the costs of the test bylaw.
“This is a decent bylaw. We should have four or five bylaws sitting in a row. We know there’s a problem and we should all be working together. If we have to share expenses, let’s come to terms,” said Davis.
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