A two-hour protest outside the CAW Family Education Centre Friday morning was the latest in a series of actions by local residents to show their disapproval for a wind turbine slated to be constructed on the property.
Approximately 50 people braved a crisp morning to picket outside the union owned and operated facility. While the majority were residents of Saugeen Shores, some ardent opponents of industrial wind turbines travelled from as far away as Erin to be part of the protest.
An advocacy group, Saugeen Turbine Operation Policy (STOP) has been formed out of area residents to provide a co-ordinated protest against the CAW’s plans for the turbine on the property. Thursday, the group’s lawyers sent formal letters to both the CAW and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) and explained in a news released issued Friday afternoon STOP’s lawyers had officially requested the MOE shut down the project.
The group hanged banners from exterior walls facing Bruce County Road 25 (CAW Road) and had placards ready for the protesters to hold during the duration of protest, which read “Shame on you CAW.”
Paul Krane, a member of STOP who lives on Shipley Avenue, said the group will stop the turbine from being constructed.
“There are health concerns; (turbines) devalue peoples’ property.” Krane said, listing some of the reasons why stopping the turbine is what he called “a great cause.”
He took aim at CAW president Ken Lewenza, who while in Port Elgin earlier this week said the turbine should not be as much of a concern for area residents primarily due to its smaller size than a traditional industrial wind turbine.
“I disagree with that,” Krane said. “The size is not the issue.”
For STOP, it’s all about location. Approximately 60 to 100 houses fall within 250 metres of where the turbine will be constructed, at the edge of the visitor parking lot, near the soccer pitches. Under current Ontario guidelines, set out in 2009’s Green Energy Act, no noise receptor can be within 550 metres of a wind turbine.
“Five hundred fifty is the law today,” said John Mann, a Saugeen Shores lawyer and one of the more vocal opponents of the turbine’s construction. “(The CAW) couldn’t put it up today. But since (the MOE) approved it six years ago, when 550 wasn’t around, (the CAW) can go ahead.
“It’s bewildering,” he continued. “It makes no sense.”
The project still makes a lot of sense for the CAW. A news release issued Friday morning spoke to the union’s commitment to the green energy project at the Family Education Centre.
“This project is an exciting opportunity to understand renewable energy resources that will help reduce our carbon footprint, while meeting our energy needs,” Lewenza said in the release. “It’s also an important chance to support local procurement policies that will ensure good jobs in an emerging green economy.”
Kim Yardy, national representative of the union’s education department, based out of Port Elgin, was on site at the centre Friday to elaborate.
“We’re really excited about the project and green energy,” Yardy said. “In terms of the project here, it will reduce our operating costs in terms of our energy consumption by 65 per cent. That’s a lot of money.”
Money the union is looking to save. CAW employs a large number of people, specifically at the Port Elgin centre. However, as membership has dropped, due to job losses in the auto industry, the union’s income has decreased as well. Being able to support a green initiative, as part of a project mostly made in Ontario, which will result in cost-savings, is a win-win for the CAW.
The protesters fail to be convinced however of any benefit from the project.
“He’s obviously got an agenda that he’s going ahead with and not listening for whatever reason,” Krane said, referring to Lewenza.
The opportunities from the turbine go beyond financial savings, Yardy explained. The union is thoroughly convinced this turbine will be advantageous to the greater Saugeen Shores community.
“We’re really excited about the fact that we can put together an educational program around green energy (and) around good green jobs for the community,” she said. “That’s part and parcel to what we’re doing, in addition to reducing our carbon footprint more broadly. We think that’s really exciting.”
The opportunities, she continued, have not been as expressed as well as the challenges to the project from concerned citizens. She hopes this will change as the CAW opens up a new dialogue with stakeholders in the community.
“When the permit process started eight years ago, we did have consultations with the community,” she said. However she empathized with several residents who do not believe the CAW has been as forthcoming as they should have been in the immediate past. “I think there are some valid concerns in that we didn’t do some outreach last week, or the week before… We’re really happy we’re doing it now, in response to this.”
Still, the CAW may be fighting an uphill battle when it comes to community discussions. Many residents seem to be at a loss as to how an organization which prides itself on being a good community partner could want to move forward with a project so many people appear to be against.
“None of us can understand why a great neighbour – the CAW is a wonderful neighbour to the community and the neighbourhood – wants to continue to put this up where it will hurt people,” Mann said.
“The neighbours don’t want it,” Krane added. “And to be a good neighbour you should listen to your neighbours.”
While the union may not be listening in the exact way STOP would like them to, the protest certainly made their voices heard. Yardy said the prospect of the protest was discussed throughout the week during several training seminars and the national executive meeting which took place at the centre Wednesday. The union welcomed STOP’s protest outside the property.
“Our members are fully in support of the right of people to protest things that they don’t agree with,” Yardy said. “We’re hopeful that over the next week or so we can engage in conversation that perhaps aren’t out in the cold, on the street, where we can engage the community to address the concerns.”
One thing they will agree upon is the need for sources of green energy; just where those sources should be will spark the debate.
“They can put it somewhere else,” Krane said. “We’re all for green power, but put it somewhere else, not in our backyards.”