By a majority decision, councillors Monday night avoided a multimillion dollar lawsuit by voting for a compromise with a wind developer.
Councillors voted 8-4 in favour of a compromise with Horizon Wind Inc., effectively ending the $126 million lawsuit the company levied against the city. The vote followed seven deputations during a committee of the whole meeting at city hall.
The potential 79 megawatt project on the Nor’ Wester mountains will be laid out in five phases. The first phase, called Beta, will generate a potential 16.5 megawatts of power through eight turbines, which are mainly southeast of Little Norway Road.
Decommissioning would be provided by the company at $20,000 per turbine after 16 years.
City solicitor Rosalie Evans said the deal also states the company cannot have permanent access to turbines through Loch Lomond Road until the company passed the province’s Renewable Energy Approvals.
“They would not actually build a road until, and unless, the project is approved by the province,” Evans said. “We would not have a road to nowhere.”
Until that time the company will use Little Norway Road to access the locations.
Mayor Keith Hobbs said he doesn’t feel comfortable because the deal leaves him with too many unanswered questions.
“It was the worst decision that has ever been made in this city,” Hobbs said. “I can’t see one mistake made compounded by another”.
The deal states one per cent, up to 15 acres, of the total trees can be cut. But that’s still devastating to an area the mayor considers a wonder of the world. Blasting, which requires a professional engineering study, will also ruin the area, he added.
“Green energy is not supposed to leave a footprint and this is leaving a major boot print,” Hobbs said. “You’re gonna blast the crap out of that mountain.”
Coun. Ken Boshcoff agreed that the deal was a bad one. Now that certain turbines are allowed to be 185.5 metres tall instead of the original 100 metres in Horizon’s REA, people are going to be upset. The councillor added that a potential increase to the number of turbines overall will also be uncomfortable to many residents.
“I would think it’s a valid case for what they call righteous anger,” he said. “This city is going down a path that we will all regret.”
But Coun. Andrew Foulds said the city is facing a $126 million lawsuit. Even if it fought and only had to pay half of that, Thunder Bay couldn’t build new roads for five years to pay off the damages. While $20,000 per turbine might be low for some people, at least it’s something, he added.
“Perhaps it is lower than many people would like but it is better than nothing,” Foulds said.
Coun. Iain Angus, echoing Foulds’ statements, said he had to support the deal.
“Actually a fifth of that (lawsuit) would be what we paid for the hospital,” he said.
Angus added that council had plenty of opportunities to raise questions and concerns, and that he believed the topics discussed Monday night had been dealt with.
“I’m satisfied that we have all the information we need to make a decision,” Angus said.
Wind Concerns Ontario president John Laforet, one of seven opponents to make a deputation to the city, said council had to decide whether they were a municipality or a wind farm proponent.
The deal, Laforet believes, shows that Horizon can bully the city and get whatever they want. Laforet said the city was just avoiding one lawsuit before facing many more from residents.
“You’re setting yourselves up for a fight,” Laforet told council. “Residents don’t lose these fights.”
Mike Payne, a member of the Nor’Wester Mountain Escarpment Protection Committee said the committee is disappointed with council’s decision.
He said the committee will confer with their legal counsel about how to proceed, but couldn’t say whether the group plans to raise lawsuits against the city.
“But it’s definitely a possibility,” said Payne.