The final West Lincoln council meeting of 2012 ended just as quickly as it started.
With dozens of residents jammed into council chambers and plenty more in the hall, Ald. Joanne Chechalk moved that council adjourn its Dec. 10 meeting until a more suitable venue could be found. Despite there being nothing on the agenda in relation to wind turbines council, staff and members of a citizens group opposed to wind turbines caught word that Niagara Region Wind Corp. was planning to speak at the meeting under the public comments portion.
Unlike most councils, West Lincoln opens the floor to anyone wishing to address an issue in the township, whether it is on the agenda or not, to a maximum of 10 minutes at the start of each meeting. Niagara Region Wind Corp. spokesperson Randi Rahamim had planned to use that period to address council and the community with what she said is good news.
“I had emailed to ask if I could come before council to let them and the community know about an upcoming job fair,” said Rahamim, who had originally tried to get on the agenda for a Dec. 3 committee meeting to talk about the Dec. 11 and 18 job fairs. “I thought this would be wonderful news for the community.”
Rahamim said she was surprised to see such high attendance at the meeting when her presentation was not even on the agenda. She said she was “disappointed” council was not able to secure a larger venue within the three weeks since her initial contact. A frustrated Ald. Sue-Ellen Merritt took the first opportunity to clarify the situation for residents.
Merritt was frustrated by a slew of emails she received “beating us up” for not changing the venue. She said the township had asked Rahamim to postpone her presentation until January to allow for staff to find an alternate location. She said they could not move the Dec. 3 meeting, as it was dealing with budget and had already been advertised as taking place at township hall.
Council chambers can hold a maximum of 55 people and there is no sound system in the hallway. At a November committee meeting, council agreed to move any meetings where attendance is expected to exceed capacity, such as meetings when industrial wind turbines – an issue which some say has split the community – are on the agenda. Merritt said while staff attempted to move Monday’s meeting the high school had already been booked.
“This motion is the best way to conduct business,” said Merritt, adding that by moving the meeting to a larger location at a later date would ensure “everyone, including Niagara Region Wind Corp., can have a say.”
While Wellandport resident Cathy Vitucci was not planning to speak at Monday’s meeting, she was looking forward to hearing from fellow NRWC lease holders, who came en masse to council chambers sporting bright green “Yes to wind” T-shirts. She said three weeks should have been ample time for council to find an alternate location for the meeting and was upset the opportunity for proponents to share their opinions was lost.
“We’ve been respectful,” said Vitucci of past council meeting where dozens of opponents have expressed their dismay at the project. She said her family’s decision came after much research. “In the end, we decided the health concerns were greatly exaggerated.”
Vitucci said she did not feel safe speaking publicly about her decision to host a turbine as the issue has split the community, pinning neighbour against neighbour. She said she has received several opinion pieces in her mailbox and her 10-year-old son has been picked on in school for his family’s decision to lease their land to NRWC. For every anti-wind opinion piece Vitucci has received, she has a pro-wind opinion piece to counter it. What she is after is scientific data, which she said her family used in making its decision.
Another part of the decision, admitted Vitucci, was foresight.
“We’re going to have to live with it anyway,” she said, noting she wasn’t going to “sugar coat” her reasoning.
Lease holders weren’t the only residents to storm council Monday. Members of the West Lincoln Wind Action Group came prepared for a fight but were pleased with council’s decision to postpone the meeting. With residents shouting from the hallway they were unable to hear, chambers erupted in applause after Chechalk made her motion to adjourn.
“This is democracy working,” said Cam Pritchard, a spokesperson for WLWAG, who was looking forward to hearing the other side of the debate.
“I’d really like to sit down with the people getting the turbines and talk with them,” said Pritchard. “I’m a West Lincoln resident and I want to talk with other West Lincoln residents.”
Pritchard said council’s decision to adjourn is one WLWAG supports. He and other members of the rapidly-growing citizens group are looking forward to having that debate on Jan. 9.
“Members of the public have a right to speak and be heard,” said Mayor Doug Joyner, recognizing the small space “compromises” the democratic rights of West Lincoln residents. “That’s the unfortunate reality of tonight.”
Council voted in favour of rescheduling the Dec. 10 council meeting to Wednesday, Jan. 9 at 7 p.m. at South Lincoln High School.
That meeting will take place before the final series of public meetings on the NRWC project. Locally, public meetings will take place on Feb. 5 in Grimsby and Lincoln, Feb. 6, in Pelham and West Lincoln and Feb. 7, in Wainfleet and Lowbanks. The West Lincoln meetings takes place from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Wellandport Community Centre, 5042 Canborough Rd. The NRWC has released its draft plans and reports. The project is under a 60-day public review period. For more information on the project, visit www.nrwc.ca.
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