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CAW issued building permit for turbine, residents look to halt project

Standing 80 feet tall, Chantry Island Lighthouse is arguably the defining landmark of Saugeen Shores. From all points along the waterfront, and several throughout the municipality, the beacon can be seen, a reminder of home for those returning and a friendly hello for those visiting.

A new landmark, three times the size of the Chantry Island Lighthouse will soon welcome people to Port Elgin. However it is a “hello” seemingly few people want to hear.

A building permit has been issued to the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) to construct a nearly 250 foot (75 metre) wind turbine on the property of the CAW Family Education Centre. It is not certain when construction will begin, however Ken Bondy, national co-ordinator for the CAW said he expects the project to be completed sometime in 2012.

Reaction to the project’s commencement has been met with almost universal outrage from residents throughout Saugeen Shores, but particularly those who live closest to the education centre property in Goble’s Grove, one of the county’s most popular cottage areas.

“It’s not that I’m against the concept of wind power or alternative sources of electricity,” said Trish Wilson, a Toronto resident who cottages at Goble’s Grove on a family property which dates back to 1935. “I simply think this is an inappropriate placement of a 250 foot wind turbine overlooking a resort/cottage area.”

The proposal to put a turbine on the property has been on the books for a number of years, first being discussed by CAW executive sometime around 2003. In 2006, the Saugeen Shores planning advisory committee (PAC) recommended town council not approve a request from CAW to re-zone the property allowing a turbine to be constructed.

“The issue that it came down to was land use,” Saugeen Shores mayor Mike Smith said at the time. When the issue was before PAC, Smith was chair of the committee and deputy mayor of Saugeen Shores. “We have no objections to the idea of wind power, it’s just not in the public interest to have a big industrial machine within the urban area. It was pretty clear from public opinion.”

Saugeen Shores committee-of-the-whole acted on PAC’s recommendation at its next meeting, officially recommending to council it deny the CAW’s zoning request. Then mayor Mark Kraemer summed up the thoughts of many residents at the meeting by calling the turbine proposal “a great idea, wrong location.”

After that March 2006 meeting, Don Scott, a consultant with Cuesta Planning hired by the CAW said finding another suitable site would be almost impossible. If that seemed like hyperbole in 2006, it is completely accurate in 2011.

The Green Energy Act, enacted in 2009, set out minimum setbacks for receptors and their proximity to industrial wind turbines. Somewhat ironically, the act, which many on Saugeen Shores town council have lambasted for how it has stripped away planning powers for municipalities, would protect the town in this situation. Under the act, a minimum 550 metre setback is enforced, which would end construction at the CAW before it even began. However, because the project was approved before the Green Energy Act was brought into legislation, it is exempt from such guidelines.

“They’re putting it in a residential area. You couldn’t do this today at all,” said John Mann, a Saugeen Shores lawyer who presented a deputation to committee-of-the-whole last (Monday) night, imploring them to do whatever they can to halt any construction of a turbine on CAW property.

One of the residents of that area is none other than Sagueen Shores deputy mayor Luke Charbonneau. Charbonneau and his family live approximately 300 metres from where the turbine will be constructed. He was candid in his discussion about his decision to buy in an area which could feature an industrial turbine as a neighbour.

“Other benefits of the property outweighed my concern about the turbine,” he said. “Obviously, it’s something that I wish wasn’t going forward, but I was aware that it was going to happen.”

The deputy mayor, and soon to be father of two, said he and his family personally are not overly concerned about their health and well-being with regard to living near a turbine. He also added he has no plans to sell the property anytime in the forseeable future. However, he remained cautious. “I guess we’ll wait and see,” he said. “It may be a big problem.”

Charbonneau was not on Saugeen Shores town council when it denied the zoning request, however was early in his rookie term when the issue went before the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). The CAW was successful at the OMB, with chair JP Atcheson ruling the “single use, 600 kilowatt 100 metre turbine wouldn’t have a significant impact on the surrounding residents or area.”

Since then, changes have been made to the scope of the project by engineers at CAW.

“We were originally going to put a one mega-watt turbine in we have scaled that in to half the size which is 500 kilowatts,” Bondy explained

The aesthetic appeal, or lack thereof, of an industrial wind turbine held little sway with the OMB. In its ruling, visual impact of the turbine was considered to be no different than that of a transmission line, meteorological or cell phone tower. However, if you were to ask just about any resident in the area, they’d likely disagree.

“This is a big move considering this is an area that prides itself on attracting tourists,” Wilson said.

The CAW is aware of the issues being brought up be residents, however they are very optimistic about the project going forward.

“Despite some of the concerns of the residents, we’re very excited about this because of the two key benefits we are looking for,” Bondy said. “First of all: the educational opportunity that we can generate energy. Secondly we can build a project using local procurement policies as far as the manufacturer of the actual materials for it that are mainly built in Ontario and of course local contractors we will be employed to erect this wind turbine.”

The issue is not one about the merit of wind turbines in this situation. In fact, most of the arguments against the turbine at CAW allow for wind power to be part of Ontario’s energy mix. The most concern lies with the location and how little communication residents say they have had with the CAW.

“No one is against having wind turbines, just don’t put them near people, that’s the bottom line. Ontario is bigger than most countries . . . why it is imperative to put them near people is just stunning to me,” Mann said.

“This came as a complete shock to people in Goble’s Grove,” Wilson added. “I’m quite disturbed by the fact that the CAW has said that it consulted with the public because every neighbour and friend I’ve talked to is completely shocked by this and disturbed. I certainly never received mail from the CAW, I never received notice of a public meeting where I could make my views known and generally I would say the community is disturbed about that.”

In an interview Friday, Bondy was adamant the CAW had acted above board and actively had communicated with both residents and the municipality.

“Any concerns we want to deal with them openly, even to the point that when we originally developed this idea, we had generated pamphlets and distributed them throughout the community to let people know what we are doing,” Bondy said. “We have tried to have been open and transparent in everything we are doing, so we don’t see this so much as a challenge with the municipality as much as perhaps some people that just have concerns or disregard for wind turbines. This is occurring everywhere across the province, this ‘not in my back yard’ phenomena that always occurs.”

The CAW takes pride in being part of the community and its relationship with the town and its people is paramount.

“A big concern of ours obviously, we’ve been a part of the community for a very long time, and have an absolutely great relationship with the people that are employed on the centre and obviously live in the community,” Bondy said. “We’ve always done what we could to be a good neighbours.”

As a town, Saugeen Shores seems to have its hands tied. But residents who do not want the turbine to be erected are not out of options.

“Even if we could revoke our building permit, which I don’t think we probably could legally… our permit only applies to the foundations. That’s all we have the ability to approve,” Charbonneau explained. “What goes on top of it is none of our business.”

What goes on top is dictated by a certificate of approval from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE). That document allows the CAW to proceed with the construction of the turbine. For Charbonneau, there really is only one option for residents who do not want to see a wind turbine at the family education centre and that is to convince the MOE to revoke the certificate of approval.

“Contact Doris Dumais at the Ministry of the Environment,” Charbonneau said authoritatively on how people can make that happen. “(E-mail) doris.dumais@ontario.ca and tell her that you’re concerned about it.”

But whether the residents like it now or not, as far as the CAW is concerned, the approximately $1.5 million project is moving forward.

“People need to appreciate that there has been a lot of time, effort and money put into this project,” Bondy said. “So we are going to stay the course and develop this and we anticipate that the community will find it as a benefit once it’s established and they are invited to come and see the operation.”

~with files from Paul Jankowski and Shoreline Beacon archives