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Anti-turbine group seeks health contract

An anti-turbine group in Port Elgin wants more than just assurances that a new CAW wind turbine will not make people sick.

Greg Schmalz, spokesman for STOP, said the group wants the Canadian Auto Workers Union to commit, in a legally binding agreement, to shut down the turbine if the health of residents is negatively impacted.

“We want a public contract for health and safety. That really is the biggest objective we have right now,” he said Tuesday.

Schmalz said CAW officials have assured the 600-member STOP group and municipal officials, both verbally and in writing, that it will turn off the turbine if adverse health effects are reported.

“We want to hold them to their promise,” he said.

Ken Bondy, the CAW’s national health and safety co-ordinator, said the union has offered only to make “adjustments” to the turbine if there is “conclusive evidence” of health impacts.

“Ultimately, the last thing we would really want to do is have to shut that turbine down after everything that we’ve invested and all of the information that we read on the positive side – that there are no real health concerns,” he said.

He said the CAW cannot make commitments before the turbine is operational. However, once it is, he said the union will follow through on its offer to establish a committee of both CAW and community representatives where public concerns can be heard.

Saugeen Shores Deputy-mayor Luke Charbonneau said during a meeting in November, CAW officials told him that the union would “take legitimate health concerns seriously and that they would go so far as to shut the turbine down or restrict its hours of operation if it’s demonstrated that it’s having a negative impact on the health of the community.

“That’s a commitment that they’ve openly made to me, personally and to others.”

He said he is supportive of STOP’s efforts.

“I would be supportive of any action that would see them commit to that as firmly as possible. In writing, preferably,” he said.

He said Saugeen Shores council will take “a lead role” in ensuring the CAW follows through on its commitment.

Construction of the 76-metre turbine at the CAW’s Family Education Centre near the Lake Huron shoreline is well underway. Officials expect the blades will be installed within the next three weeks. The turbine is scheduled to be operational by the end of March.

Saugeen Shores council is against the project. The turbine has caused indignation in the community and led to public meetings, protests and rallies.

The main source of anger for Saugeen Shores residents is the location of the proposed turbine, which is less than 200 metres from the nearest home and within 500 metres of 60 to 100 others.

The project is exempt from the 550-metre setback rule set out in the Green Energy Act since it was approved by the province three years before the act became law in 2009.

It is also exempt from the 2,000-metre setback established last year by Saugeen Shores council, since approval for wind power projects rests with the province.

The CAW says it has taken all necessary precautions to address possible impacts on the community, including from noise, and has adhered to all federal and provincial regulations.

The union says the turbine is not industrial size and would not be required to adhere to Green Energy Act setback rules even today because noise created by the turbine will fall below the threshold set out in the legislation.