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Hundreds gather at wind farm public meeting

More than 500 people went through Friday night’s public information meeting at the CW Sportsplex for the Springwood Wind Farm near Belwood.

Most wore distinctive bright green t-shirts being handed out by the Oppose Belwood Wind Farm group – shirts with “My Voice Matters” stencilled on the back.

They were decorated with stickers summarizing the group’s concerns about the project – concerns like “Tourism Impact,” “Light Pollution,” Excessive Bird Death,” “Property Values,” “Health Risk,” and “Stray Voltage.”

Now being developed by wpd Canada, the project plans four wind turbines, each generating about 2 megaWatts of power. The project’s turbines are 100 metres (about 330 feet) above the ground, with three blades 45 metres (150 feet) long that will turn at between 7.8 and 15 rpm. They’re being located in an area between 2nd Line and Wellington Road 16, north of Sideroad 15 in the former West Garafraxa township.

At times the Sportsplex hall was a sea of green shirts, as people gathered around information tables and displays. A few people watched a video that described the siting process for the turbines.

Information in the hall was set up in themed areas like “the project” and “health” and “community benefits” – and a handful of security guards monitored the room and stood by the entrance.

Many people came to show their concerns and show how many residents are opposed to the project. While some were discussing points with wpd representatives, others were talking about the project in their own groups as well.

And many were expressing a lot of frustration in the process, the information, and the seeming lack of real input the people and local municipality have. Under the Green Energy Act, for example, Centre Wellington Township doesn’t have the power to stop the project going ahead – the township can only raise concerns about specific areas. (The township has written a new letter directly to the province, objecting to the project – it’s now posted on the township website.)

“There’s no consultation here – it’s just this is what we’re doing,” one man said.

Another said there was little new information – the information boards set up were the same as those at the public meeting a year ago. He pointed out that a supposedly recent aerial photograph used in one display clearly showed a building destroyed in a 2005 fire.

One of those living near the project area, he said most of the properties in the area are for sale.

Another said that despite studies given out by wpd that suggest property values won’t be affected, people in the area have been asked to reduce prices by up to $75,000 if the project goes ahead.

Health issues are also a big concern, several people reiterating a call for health studies to be completed before going ahead, asking the company to prove the turbines are safe.

And wpd staff were getting other comments, too.

“I think city people should solve their own problems and not push them onto the rural areas where people can’t afford lawyers to fight back,” one person told a company representative.

Others seemed to have decided the meeting wasn’t worthwhile at all: “I’m not interested in anything they have to say,” one woman said when asked if she’d had her questions answered.

Wpd communications manager Kevin Surette, staffing the information booth almost directly in line with the entrance, said he’s “had the full range” of comments, from opposition to specific concerns to people who support renewable energy.

“We know the community is not happy with the project moving forward,” he said.

But the province is now relying heavily on fossil fuels to generate power, and has to look at more and more ways to generate power in a sustainable way, he said. Wind power and renewable energy is part of the mix.

“We’ve also heard from a few individuals in the community who support the project going forward,” he said.

Friday’s information meeting was the last open house for the project, designed to get public comment and input on the studies, reports, and information the company has developed since the last public meeting a year ago.

Surette said all comments received will be presented in the consultation report the company is mandated by the province to file.

The report not only summarizes comments but references the individual comments themselves, he said. It’s part of a highly prescribed process regulated by the Ministry of the Environment, and wpd will have to meet all the ministry’s requirements.

After the public meeting, people can contact the MOE directly and there is an appeal period.