An issue that is said to pit rural neighbours against one-another proved to do the same to a few of Huron County’s councillors during their June session in Goderich.
At issue was a motion, which ultimately passed by a nine-to-six vote, that will see the county firing off a letter to the Province of Ontario, stating the county supports a moratorium on any more Industrial Wind Turbine development until such time as more conclusive health studies are conducted.
That motion came at the heels of a presentation by Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh resident Anita Frayne who says extensive research has led her to the conclusion that too much wind development is coming on too fast.
“I am not an expert when it comes to Industrial Wind Turbine developments and their environmental, social, economic and/or health impacts. Nor do I have a vested interest or any ulterior motives,” says Frayne. “I simply care very deeply about what happens here.”
In referencing her research, Frayne points to a number of concerns that she suggests should lead the county to lead the charge for more information before moving forward with more Industrial Wind Turbines.
As a prime example, says Frayne, the county chose to strike up a Low Frequency Noise committee in February, which is entrusted to address concerns with noise related to turbines and other LFN emitters. Other factors to consider, says Frayne, is the province’s own $1.5 million study on renewable energy, as well as the fact that 76 councils across Ontario have passed resolutions, motions and bylaws relating to turbines.
Further, says Frayne, the provincial medial officer of health’s recently released report on the potential health impacts of turbines shows there are no widely accepted protocols for measuring noise pollution and that the ministry of environment itself has hired a consultant to measure audible noise from wind turbines.
“I believe Huron County has an opportunity, and, more importantly, an obligation to get up close and personal about this,” says Frayne. “It is the job of county councillors to take off their town and township hats and represent the best interests of the county as a whole. Our lower tier councils could use your leadership and support.”
Frayne says while it is understood some members of county council argue wind turbine development is a provincial issue, “Ultimately your fundamental role is to take all steps necessary to protect the health, safety and well being of your residents. I am therefore requesting that you say no to any further Industrial Wind Turbine development in our county at this time.”
In urging councillors to say no to any further industrial wind turbines development pending further research, Frayne says “to do anything less would be irresponsible.”
In speaking in favour of stepping up to meet Frayne’s request and by noting councillors just unanimously supported writing letters of concern with regard to perils of consuming caffeine-fuelled energy drinks, Coun. Brian Barnim (Central Huron) first proposed an outright moratorium on further turbine development before accepting an amendment, suggested by county planning director Scott Tousaw, that instead says Huron County supports the idea of a moratorium pending more conclusive evidence that turbine farms do not negatively impact either the health or wealth of their host communities.
During a question period, Coun. Paul Klopp (Bluewater) says he began to face his own issues with turbines after purchasing a neighbouring farm that had already signed off on wind leases. One issue, he says, is that there seems to be ample room to negotiate where turbines are sited once a property owner signs a lease. And, says Klopp, it is difficult to renegotiate a signed contract.
“There is a whole lot of red tape,” says Klopp to which Frayne notes she has heard stories from people who signed leases and are now “very upset that they did it.”
In attempting to table Barnim’s motion, thereby effectively ending discussion on the matter, Coun. Deb Shewfelt (Goderich) reiterated that turbine development falls under the Green Energy Act, which is the province’s responsibility.
“I think we’re playing politics here today and we have no authority,” he says. “There is a provincial obligation.”
While Coun. George Robertson (South Huron) seconded Shewfelt’s motion, it ultimately failed to pass but did manage to stoke the fires of debate between councillors.
Barnim says he doesn’t see the difference between asking for further studies and expressing concerns about energy drinks as earlier discussed at the session, Coun. Bill Siemon (Huron East), who seconded Barnim’s motion to support a moratorium, says, “This is a social and determent issue to rural Ontario.”
Siemon also suggested the issue might not hit home as hard for Shewfelt given the Town of Goderich is not facing the prospect of hosting turbines either within the town limits or out in the lake.
“Let’s try and do something we can do to prevent this social injustice from happening,” pleaded Siemon.
Shewfelt says he considers Siemon’s comments ” a low blow,” and he argues urban centres “put up with noise” all the time.
While Barnim notes the conflicting opinions in the council chamber is representative of what is going on along rural concessions, Coun. Joe Steffler (Huron East) says that, in the end, the moratorium is about more than health issues.
Those abstaining from the vote after declaring conflicts on the issue were Councillors James Ginn (Central Huron), Bernie MacLellan (Huron East), Neil Rintoul (Ashfield Colborne Wawanosh) and Ben Van Diepenbeek (ACW).
Council later agreed to further discuss the idea of opening up the LFN committee’s purview to include health impacts, at the behest of Coun. Siemon, at the county’s second committee-of-the-whole session slated for June 15. That discussion came after an earlier debate on whether the committee should be disbanded since the county is supporting a moratorium on further wind development.
In arguing changing the mandate of that committee would effectively change what was agreed upon earlier, Shewfelt noted, “I guess you can bring anything in and throw it on the agenda.”
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