HAGERSVILLE – Haldimand Wind Concerns and other opponents of the Summerhaven wind farm near Jarvis have their work cut out for them.
In opening arguments before the province’s Environmental Review Tribunal on Monday, project advocates reminded the panel that the threshold for scrapping the project is very high.
“The onus is on the appellants,” Nadine Harris, counsel for the Ministry of the Environment, said in her opening remarks about the 58-turbine project. “The onus is on the appellants to prove that the project will – not may – cause serious harm if operated in accordance with the terms of its approval.”
Harris and Toronto lawyer Dennis Mahony, counsel for Summerhaven LLP, addressed their opening comments to the fact that Haldimand Wind Concerns, the main group opposing the project, intends to call 20 witnesses to testify about their experiences with 10 wind turbine projects elsewhere.
Mahony reminded chair Heather Gibbs that the terms-of-reference for the hearing limit the tribunal to weighing evidence directly related to the construction and operation of the Summerhaven network. Mahony said anecdotal evidence from non-experts about turbine projects elsewhere should carry no weight. Mahony told the panel it had to leave open the possibility that people who say wind turbines make them ill may be suffering from psychosomatic symptoms.
“Showing that some project half way around the world has caused harm does not meet the test,” Mahony said. “They have to prove harm with regard to this project. The benefit of the doubt must be with this project. It is a very, very high threshold for the appellants to meet. It is not sufficient for the appellants to demonstrate that the project may cause harm to human health. It is not the idea of the project but the operation of the project that must cause harm.”
The hearing at the Hagersville Community Centre is the second the review tribunal has conducted into wind turbines in Ontario.
The tribunal broke new ground last year when it dismissed an appeal of the Kent Bridge Wind Farm in Chatham-Kent. In its 223-page ruling, the tribunal said the appellants had failed to demonstrate that the installation, as presented, represented a threat to human health. However, the tribunal did find that “the evidence shows there are some risks and uncertainties associated with wind turbines that merit further research.”
Toronto lawyer Eric Gillespie is representing Haldimand Wind Concerns. Gillespie also represented Chatham-Kent Wind Action in last year’s hearing. Gillespie is encouraged that the tribunal is willing to learn more about wind turbines and their “indirect effects” on human health.
“It is not necessary to know what it is about wind turbines that cause symptoms,” Gillespie said. “All that is needed is to establish a causal link. That is sufficient. The debate has now evolved into one of degree. It is no longer an open question whether wind turbines can affect human health. That was established in the (Chatham-Kent) decision. It is now a matter of degree. It is now a question of how close is too close?”
The tribunal has set aside Tuesday and Wednesday to hear arguments from Bill Monture of Six Nations. Monture has appealed the Summerhaven installation because he believes it will be bad for wildlife, native hunting rights and plants aboriginals gather in the Haldimand area for the formulation of native medicine.
Haldimand Wind Concerns will begin tabling its evidence and calling its witnesses on Wednesday. The MOE will make its case June 8, 11, and 12. Summerhaven will mount its defence June 15, 20 and 21. Closing submissions are scheduled for June 26.
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