Dozens of placard-waving protesters marched through downtown Pugwash on Monday to demand a proposed wind farm outside this Cumberland County village be stopped in its tracks.
The developer, who’d cut the project in half from a 2007 plan, was surprised to find the first day of his open house at a local church occupied by frustrated landowners.
The community is divided.
Those in favour say the $85-million, 11-to-12-turbine project would pour renewable energy into the electrical grid, add income to county coffers and showcase northern Nova Scotia as a forward thinking area.
Those opposed are adamant the windmills will lower property values in a rapidly developing area, be will a noisy nuisance and an eyesore.
So what’s going on that a green energy investment in a cash-strapped area of the province would cause lines to be drawn in the Northumberland sand between neighbours and friends?
To understand, you’ll need an introduction to the Northumberland Strait’s changing coast.
In the 1950s, Pugwash-area residents farmed, fished and worked in the woods just as their ancestors had a century before. Soon after, a salt mine opened that added decent paying industrial jobs to compliment the extensive seasonal work.
Between then and now the family farms have been abandoned, lobster stocks in the Northumberland Strait have declined and the lumber industry has largely dried up.
But Pugwash has soldiered on thanks to jobs at the salt mine, Seagull Pewter, a home for disabled adults and a large senior citizen’s complex, along with its downtown business core, hospital and schools.
“There are jobs and a good economy here but still most the young people leave,” said Allison Gillis, a Cumberland county councillor for the Pugwash area.
“One of our greatest imports have been people who moved here to retire. They build homes, shop locally and contribute greatly to our community.”
Among those are Greg and Kathy Downing. Charmed by the strait’s warm waters, lack of industrial and commercial development, they are among the many retirees who have flocked to the area over the past decade to build homes and spend the autumn of their lives.
After careers working in the Northwest Territories, the couple built their home on the Gulf Shore Road five years ago.
The coastal road has been built up, largely by retired professionals from across North America. Many of the houses are valued at over $300,000 – a lot of money in an economically depressed county. The Northumberland Links, also on the Gulf Shore Road, is consistently rated one of Canada’s top five public golf courses and the Fox Harb’r Golf Resort and Spa is nearby.
The proposed turbine development is in a wooded area between the Irishtown and Gulf Shore roads.
It will “be a nuisance and severely hurt property values,” Greg Downing said after reviewing the developer’s proposal.
The Downings and others don’t buy the developer’s independently verified claims that the maximum noise exposure for nearby residents will be 40 decibels or less, lower than traffic noise.
While a handful of houses are about 680 metres away from the nearest proposed tower, the majority are more than 800 metres away. (Cumberland County’s mandatory setback for wind turbines from homes is 600 metres.)
“The future of this area is for people to come and retire and live year-round,” said Downing. “Why put these turbines right next to residential areas when there are plenty of other places they could go?”
But not everyone shares the same vision of Pugwash’s future.
Kara Irving, 40, and her father, Keith, 73, were bringing their 120 dairy cows into the barn on Tuesday. As they did, the elder Irving shared memories of when 18 dairy farms occupied the coast rather than the newly built homes.
And the younger Irving told of how she’s trying to keep the last dairy farm along the Gulf Shore Road alive for another generation.
She supports the wind turbines. Three or four will be on her property and she doesn’t mind having one of the closest homes to the development.
“I went on a tour of the Netherlands in 2000 and there were wind turbines and farms working together all over the place,” Irving said. “It piqued my interest.”
So when Pugwash Wind Farm Inc. president Charles Demond contacted her in 2005 about having 18 turbines for the originally proposed 28-turbine, $120-million wind farm on some of her 280-hectare farm, Irving was all for it.
“I went and visited a number of other wind farms, did some research and thought it would be a wonderful thing,” she said.
The Irvings will be paid for putting the windmills on their property.
But a movement grew against the original proposal. Operating under the banner of the Gulf Shore Preservation Association, the group is composed mainly of Irving’s new neighbours.
In 2007, Pugwash Wind Farm put the original plan on hold. On Monday, when Demond unveiled a significantly reduced 11-turbine plan for the Gulf Shore Road, the church basement in Pugwash was flooded with protesters.
Irving wasn’t impressed because the company “bent over backwards” to accommodate those opposing the wind farm.
And as far as she is concerned, “I’m looking at this from a sustainability perspective for agriculture and for energy.”
“Expenses are going up,” she said. “Will this wind farm help us be able to afford to farm? Yes. Will we get rich? No.”
Demond said Pugwash Wind Farm plans to file for environmental approval next week. A decision from the Department of Environment is expected in March.
If it is positive, the company will then apply to an arm’s-length provincial government body called the Renewable Electricity Administrator for final approval.
Construction could begin by 2013.
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