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Residents hint at civil action against turbine proponents

Tom Shields is warning those who live near proposed industrial turbines to have their properties assessed as soon as possible.

Shields, whose family has farmed in the community for six decades, warned residents they will need that information to file a class action lawsuit against IPC Energy and Niagara Region Wind Corp., both of which have turbine projects awaiting final approval from the province. He warned council the “horizon spoiling monsters” would create a bad news situation for the township, similar to the PCB leak in the Smithville Industrial Park in the late 1970s and early 1980s. That disaster, one of the largest in Ontario, has cost the Ontario government upwards of $70 million to treat. Shields fears the turbine projects will end up costing the township millions as the decommissioning of the towers at the project’s end, in 20 years, is left in the hands of the property owners.

NRWC plans to deal with decommissioning by providing land owners with letters of credit worth $100,000. Shields fears those property owners will abandon their land at the end of the lease period.

“It will be in the land owners best interest to leave and allow the town to pay,” said Shields, noting land owners who have leased their land to either project will have collected a hefty some, about $1 million under the undisputed claim that NRWC is offering property owners $50,000 a year. “Hasn’t that happened already? Once again poor old West Lincoln will be left to clean up the mess that someone else started,” said Shield.

Shields wasn’t the only resident to hint at potential lawsuits should either project receive the provincial stamp of approval. Residents in Stayner, Ont., a small community near Collingwood, have already launched a lawsuit against WPD Canada, regarding its application to erect eight wind turbines. Dave Bowslaugh said that may be the next step for residents of West Lincoln.

“I’m preparing a fight,” said Bowslaugh. “Eventually, lawsuits will happen. I’m just glad there are enough people here to fight.”

Turbines were back on the agenda at Monday’s council meeting as West Lincoln Glanbrook Wind Action Group representatives Neil Switzer and Cam Pritchard were scheduled as delegations to present a one-shy-of-800-signatures petition. The scheduled delegation drew a crowd that filled council chambers, with some residents standing in the doorway. Residents were warned once by Mayor Doug Joyner that hooting and hollering would not be tolerated after the crowd erupted in cheers following Shields’ presentation.

There was no discussion on the topic from members of council who have long said their hands are tied when it comes to the Green Energy Act. The Act takes regular planning controls away from municipalities, giving the provincial government the power to approve projects. However, Switzer commended Ald. Sue Ellen Merritt and the rest of council for supporting a motion she brought forward at the May 14 planning meeting to oppose any new industrial wind turbine projects in response to changes to the Green Energy Act which includes a point system which will prioritize which communities will be granted green energy projects.

Despite this, residents continue to call on their elected representatives to prevent the turbines from setting up in West Lincoln. Residents Catherine Mitchell and John Dykstra encouraged council to revisit the idea of increasing the minimum setback distances between turbines and residences. Council, at the recommendation of staff, decided against adopting a new bylaw as the province’s two kilometre minimum will trump whatever distance the township sets.

“How can you put bylaws in place to protect roads and infrastructure of this municipality but you can not protect the health and the property values of the people that elected you and live in this municipality?” questioned Mitchell. “It is time to revisit the two kilometre setback distance that many of us requested. All turbine ordinances should establish mechanisms to ensure turbine developers will buy out any affected family at the full pre-turbine value of their home so that people are not trapped between unlivable lives and destitution through home abandonment.”

The pleas of Wellandport resident Carole Barker were much more simple.

“It is better to fight to lose than not to try,” she said. “That’s all I’m asking. Please try.”