CAMDEN – Representatives of a citizens group opposed to a proposed wind farm in Camden say their faith has been “shattered” in the government process aimed at seeking community approval.
“This entire process, I feel, my faith in it all is really getting shattered, because COMFIT (the Community Feed-In Tariff program of the Department of Energy) was very clear, without community approval, it does not go forward,” group spokesperson Deborah Smith said, regarding the conclusion she and another member took away from a recent meeting with a department official about the wind farm proposal.
“What we understood coming out of the meeting was that the process was halted and that what would be put in in place would be these other things, like COMFIT coordinating a meeting or that the meetings the developer was going to have, that they would start on this new process of communication to see if we could negotiate something with the developer or with the community. But as far as granting any approval, that process was not moving forward. And the word was ‘halted.'”
A partnership involving the Eskasoni Corporate Division and the German-owned company, juwi Wind Canada and Community Wind Farms of Mahone Bay are proposing a development to erect two industrial-sized wind turbines capable of producing 4.4-megawatts on undetermined sites in Camden.
Strong community opposition to the project has arisen from Camden and Harmony-area residents, however, because of uncertainty surrounding where those turbines would be located, issues over potential health concerns and fears of de-valued properties.
Surveys, impact letters and a petition bearing more than 400 signatures have been lodged against the project.
On July 20, Smith and fellow area resident Hayley Thomas met with COMFIT administrator Krystal Therien to express the community concerns in advance of what they believed was an Aug. 31 deadline for a recommendation to the department minister.
The pair said they came away from that meeting believing the process had been halted, after which they followed up with an e-mail to Therien, complete with the word ‘halted’ in their query, before taking the message back to the community.
Therien’s emailed response read as follows: “The Department of Energy takes expressions of concern from communities very seriously. The COMFIT Program is founded upon the principle that the projects brought forward are by communities and have community support. The application by Eskasoni is required under Section 24 to demonstrate community support for their project, against which expressed community concerns are considered.
“Until that requirement is met, the department will not be recommending approval by the Minister. We continue to assess the application and would appreciate further dialogue between your group and the developer to explore conditions under which they would be able to meet the requirements.”
After the group issued a news release on Thursday, however, the department responded by saying that the process is proceeding along its previously defined path.
“It is unfortunate that there appears to be some confusion, but I can confirm that the application is not halted and has never been halted,” department spokeswoman Tracy Barron said in an emailed response to the Truro Daily News.
“In this instance, we have asked for additional information and engagement from the applicant, but the application is not halted and has never been halted. However, until the additional information and evidence of community support to meet that requirement is received, the application does not move forward.
“I can’t believe this,” Smith said. “We even reaffirmed it with her and then sent an email to them saying this is halted and then we told them … we’re going to let the community know it was halted. She never once said, ‘no, it’s not halted.’ They clearly said to both of us, ‘it’s halted.’ In the meeting, no question about that.”
“It sounds like they’re trying to put a bit of a spin on what actually happened and I’m kind of kicking myself for not bringing a tape recorder to that meeting,” she said. “It was pretty clear that everything was halted.”
Keith Towse, CEO of Community Wind Farms, said that after having two recent direct meetings with the community members, his company is working to address those issues.
“Our understanding is and we’ve had conversations with Krystal on several occasions about the expressions of concern by the community. As we communicated to her and as we’ve communicated to the community, we recognize their concerns and are seeking to work with them to address their concerns,” Towse said.
“The COMFIT process isn’t a time-limited process. The COMFIT development process is something that’s two-year’s long and we’re seeking to work with the community as we’ve indicated to them at the all of the meetings we’ve had with them and are open to understanding and addressing their concerns.”
Smith, however, said she feels the department is now “backtracking” on what it had earlier said and she expressed disappointment that it was not being as “open and transparent” as she and Thomas had been led to believe was the case during the meeting.
“I don’t support it at all at this stage because if this is the way the business is conducted in putting a wind turbine up in our community, I have no faith once it’s up that they’ll deal fairly with any problem,” she said.
“I feel that they seem to be standing squarely on the side of the developer versus on the side of the community, which is what I understood….
“Again, the whole thing around wind turbines does seem to not really be dealing with the community. The community seems to be the shareholder and the developer. It’s not the residents.”
Harmony Ridge resident Raymond Meagher, said, he also has issues with the communication process and that community support will be a hard-won effort.
“It can be done. But they have to change the way they are thinking and the way they are doing business,” he said.
“If they stick to the line that they are holding right now, I don’t think they will ever win the community over … There’s just a lot of unanswered questions.”
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