Protesters shouted “take it down” and “shame on you” at the gates of the Canadian Auto Workers centre in Port Elgin.
“That thing makes people sick, take it down,” Greg Schmalz said as close to 300 people joined the chant Saturday afternoon.
Tractors and other farm vehicles, including a horse-drawn wagon, gathered in downtown Port Elgin at noon for the protest parade through town and out to the CAW Family Education Centre.
Cyclists and dozens of people walking with signs, small children and dogs joined the march along the way. A small airplane or two buzzed over the gathering, appearing to fly perilously close to the turbine tower as the crowd watched and cheered.
“That turbine is a precedent-setting turbine because it’s a magnification of all the problems with every turbine in this province,” Schmalz told the crowd. “This turbine is a world first in the wrong way.”
While Ontario’s current rules demand a 550-metre setback for wind turbines, he said 100 families live within that distance. The closest home is just 200 metres from the turbine, which was approved before those setback rules were in place.
Saugeen Shores council, which has opposed the tower from the beginning, now has a safety zone of 2,000 metres, the common setback in Europe, Schmalz said. About 4,000 people live within 2,000 metres and Schmalz said property within that area has been devalued by as much as $100 million.
With the tower already built, many at the protest said Saturday’s gathering was also symbolic; rural Ontario rising up to let urban areas know the Liberal government energy policies are unfair to rural communities and working to turn public opinion against future wind projects. Some said supporting this rally will add momentum to growing opposition to turbine proposals in their own communities.
For Schmalz, Saturday day was “all about this tower,” he said in an interview. “All of the problems in rural Ontario are captured in this one turbine.”
“We’re going to have non-stop pressure on the CAW. STOP means stop. Stop it from being built. Stop it from operating.”
With several speakers – including Huron-Bruce MP Ben Lobb, Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Walker, and radio talk show host Dale Goldhawk, who has led opposition and raised health questions to industrial wind turbines for several years – this was the second such protest at the CAW gates.
Goldhawk told the crowd he has no doubt turbines harm people’s health.
“The government has dug in its heels even though there is a growing body of evidence that shows these things close to where people live are a health hazard,” he said. “The evidence is right there staring everybody in the face except the Ontario government is not listening.”
Goldhawk also urged the lobbyists to double their numbers at the next protest.
“The government has to listen to this growing chorus,” he said. “All these people can’t be wrong.”
Saturday’s protest was initially set for early March, but high winds postponed that event.
Canada’s largest private sector union, with 200,000 members, the CAW first planned a union-owned wind turbine on its property near Port Elgin’s shoreline in 2003. Navigation Canada approved it in September of 2004 and the Ministry of the Environment in 2005.
Saugeen Shores council rejected the union’s zoning request concerned about noise and the expected impact on property values. The Ontario Municipal Board ruled in favour of the union on appeal.
The Ontario Power Authority has signed a 500-kilowatt feed-in-tariff contract with the CAW, and officials said this week the $2.5-million, 76-metre turbine will go online next month.
Several at the rally and in the crowd said Ontario doesn’t need energy from wind turbines when it is now paying Quebec and The United States to take this province’s excess power.
“It’s insanity,” MPP Bill Walker said.
Saugeen Shores Deputy-mayor Luke Charbonneau told the crowd CAW President Ken Lewenza has promised him the turbine would be stopped if anyone’s health is harmed, and the community will hold him to it.
Saugeen Shores has asked CAW, without reponse so far, to arranged for thrird-party oversight once the turbine starts up, he said.
Charbonneau and others said Premier Dalton McGuinty and his government are ignoring rural Ontario’s growing opposition to Green Energy policies which give communities no control over where turbines are built.
“The only way that there is going to be a change is with a change of government,” he said.
The Liberals also refuse repeated requests for valid research into how the machines affect the health of people living nearby.
MPP Bill Walker said the Ontario Conservatives will continue introducing private member bills demanding a moratorium on turbines until that research is complete, even though several have failed, including one introduced last month by Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson.
MP Lobb said he believes the federal government will soon
“The only shame is that by the time the study’s done all the turbines will be built,” Lobb told the crowd. “That’s why we’ve asked for a moratorium.”
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