A unanimous recorded vote of Huron East council will endorse a request by Huron East Against Turbines (HEAT) to the Ministry of the Environment to extend their consultation period from the required 30 days to 90 days to give the community a chance to respond to a draft plan for an industrial wind turbine project in St. Columban.
The motion was one of three requests made by Tom and Jeanne Melady, members of Huron East Against Turbines (HEAT) at Huron East council’s May 1 meeting.
The other two requests, the first to host a working meeting between HEAT and concerned citizens to research and understand concerns about the wind project and the second to put in place a health and safety bylaw to protect local citizens living near the proposed wind project.
“The St. Columban wind project is but months or maybe even weeks from becoming reality,” said Tom, listing a number of St. Columban residents who will be living as close as 550 metres from the closet industrial wind turbine.
“The village of St. Columban and 300 other people live within less that 1,000 metres,” he said, citing information from rural areas throughout Ontario who have reported health problems living near industrial wind turbines.
Jeanne told council HEAT members have the same concerns they did the first time they presented to Huron East council three years ago.
“We are looking for you to generate action that would create a bylaw. We have a list of municipalities that have passed bylaws that have not been contested,” she said, adding that a bylaw created by HEAT’s lawyer Kristi Ross is “still a workable bylaw and she still stands behind it.”
“We assume you want to protect the residents of Huron East and accept there are things you can do,” she said.
Mayor Bernie MacLellan responded that since Huron East has already decided to discontinue its earlier attempt to create a bylaw protecting local citizens, council would need a two-thirds’ majority to even bring the discussion of a health and safety bylaw back to the council table.
“Since two councillors have had to declare a conflict of interest, it will take seven of 10 councillors to agree that they even want to enter back into the discussion,” he said.
MacLellan added that he disagrees that bylaws, which have been passed by municipalities in opposition to industrial wind turbine developments, are workable, even if they haven’t yet been challenged in court.
“If a bylaw has never been challenged, it’s nothing more than a piece of paper. But, if you knew of a bylaw that’s been written, challenged and upheld, that’s a whole different story and something we could sink our teeth into,” he said.
MacLellan told HEAT that one of its options would be to sue Huron East for not creating a health and safety protection bylaw.
“As ridiculous as it may sound in the newspaper, if the people of HEAT choose to challenge this council just on the fact we’re not passing a bylaw for the protection of people and property, that probably would be not much of an issue to get that through court. If the courts actually agreed we have the ability to do that, you’ve now given this council the authority to go ahead and pass a bylaw. But, if the courts won’t agree we have the right to do that, we’re in the same spot,” he said.
Jeanne said it’s never been HEAT’s intention to sue council, adding she urged council to “act with courage to protect our health and safety and we don’t have very much time.”
She predicted that without a plan to protect the health and safety of Huron East residents, three years from now, councillors will be listening to ratepayers talking about the loss of their health, their families’ health and the loss of their farm income.
“When you look at our forefathers, they came to this country because they were coming from a country where they were being controlled. They came here and worked hard for their health and safety and that’s what we’re asking for you now – to protect our health and safety,” said Tom, who added HEAT will not be taking Huron East to court.
“We believe there is another way. We’re asking you to look at health and safety bylaws brought in by other municipalities. They’ve been in place for two years – you’d think they would have been challenged by now.”
MacLellan told HEAT members he agrees “100 per cent” with a 90-day extension.
Seaforth Coun. Nathan Marshall asked if Huron East has received a response yet from the Ministry of the Environment in response to its earlier letter asking for answers about its concerns about the proximity of several wind turbines to local roadways, ice throw and the location of transmission lines on a roadway that goes through a “relatively urban” area of Cranbrook.
MacLellan responded that it seems that Huron East is being “stonewalled” since the municipality hasn’t received a response yet.
Jeanne told councillors that after the two-year FIT review, municipalities which support industrial wind farms within their borders are now given points under the new guidelines.
“If you don’t support wind developments, this is a time to be speaking loudly. One of the things that can be done is tell the provincial government that in no uncertain terms, this municipality does not want a project,” she said.
“I don’t believe this council was looking to have turbines put in Huron East. I do believe that this council thought they don’t have any choice at this point based on the rules,” responded MacLellan.