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Trepidation over Island wind turbines

The grand opening of Mother Earth Renewable Energy Project took place in M’Chigeeng First Nation last week. David Suzuki was on hand to celebrate the flipping of the switch for the two industrial turbines located on the bluff behind the community.

Protesters were on hand as well. Many fear this is just the beginning of the Island becoming littered with the industrial giants. Ontario Energy Minister Chris Bentley was also there.

Given my documented concern about the industrial turbines being placed on the island, it was interesting to be among the community members who were happy about this project.

I heard time and again that Chief Joe Hare and council would be setting up a fund from money made selling the power to the grid to help pay hydro bills of the First Nations members. You couldn’t help but feel the excitement in the community that this is a project that they can feel proud about. It is wholly owned by the First Nation’s community of M’Chigeeng.

However, one First Nations woman asked Suzuki if the turbines would make them sick. He replied with a simple, “no.” She went on the say that she had been reading it many times, but according to Suzuki, the people who say that are, “the ones who don’t want turbines here.”

She asked if they would kill birds and bats. He replied, “yes, the turbines need to be placed and positioned in the right way so this doesn’t happen.” This was the first time I had heard that there is a way to position the industrial turbines to stop the killing birds. I wonder if the two in M’Chigeeng or the 33 planned for MacLean’s Mountain will be “positioned properly?”

As I spoke with Bentley about the concerns of Island residents and the protesters, he replied, “this isn’t the time to talk about that, this is a time to celebrate with the community this marvelous achievement.” As I watched a children’s drum group from Lake View School sing and drum the Eagle Honour Song, I knew what he was saying, but dismissing the views of many Islanders is not the way to go. This government insists on brushing the fears of their constituents away.

Watching Suzuki be treated like a rock star with children gathering around him and people trying to get close enough to talk to him and take pictures with family members, I thought of all the times and my family and I would watch him on The Nature of Things and of all the work he has done over the years to educate and lobby for a safe environment. That morning, I had read one of his columns taking the provincial government to task over Bill 55, which as he says, “will strike at the heart of the Ontario’s Endangered Species at Risk Act. These changes would reduce the level of protection and undermine public management of cherished forests, lakes, rivers and the immeasurable benefits they provide.” I asked him about his comments, given his support for the green energy act and being here with Bentley. Suzuki replied, “I am not here with Minister Bentley, I received a letter from the First Nation of M’Chigeeng asking if I would attend. Look, the premier has done some good for the province but this bill will be terrible and I will continue to criticize this government.”

One of the protesters handed me a letter expressing his concerns about the industrial project in his community. George Corbiere, an elder from M’Chigeeng, said he used to hunt on the bluff where the two turbines now sit and “our council was not upfront with the community and it is creating conflict between our people and our traditional ways.” Native and non-native protestors waved signs with many passersby’s beeping horns in support of their cause.

I couldn’t help but hope that for this First Nation, all the promises given about this project come true. The cynic in me, however, remains skeptical. If it sounds too good to be true, then it isn’t. That’s how I feel every time someone extols the virtues of industrial turbines.

Ruth Farquhar is a freelance writer based on Manitoulin Island.