BETHANY – A question-and-answer meeting quickly deteriorated Thursday night as more than 230 area residents opposed to a proposed wind farm in their community chanted, blew whistles and shouted down a panel of experts assembled to answer their questions.
“We don’t want you here” and “Go home,” they repeatedly yelled as the meeting got under way in the gymnasium of Rolling Hills Public School.
The Snowy Ridge project, a five-turbine wind farm east of Hwy. 35 north of Hwy. 7A, is one of two proposed for the area. The company running the project, Sprott Power Corp., expects to submit its application to the Ministry of the Environment in February, said David Eva, the project manager. If approved, the wind farm would begin operation in the fall of 2014, he said.
“In our view it’s a well-designed project,” Eva said before the meeting. “A lot of thought has gone into not only a project that meets all the necessary guidelines, but can also be integrated within the community, so ultimately, we are confident that it should receive its approvals. We are very much committed to proceeding.”
He acknowledged community opposition to the project, but suggested there is “a spectrum” of opinion.
“There are some strong supporters,” he said, as well as “people who are more ambivalent, and there are those who are dead set against it.”
As the meeting got underway, no one in the school gym seemed ambivalent, and if there were any strong supporters among the combative crowd, they kept it to themselves.
Opponents repeatedly shouted down moderator Chris Windsor and Eva during his opening remarks, as well as members of the panel as they attempted to answer questions written by audience members on cards supplied by organizers of the meeting.
“Why can’t we just ask you questions?” shouted one man.
“I’m upset about this,” shouted another. “Do you think you can just stomp all over everybody in this township? I’ve got news for you. Big news. It’s not going to happen,” he said, as the raucous crowd applauded and yelled its support.
“If you want to have a shouting match for the next three hours,” Windsor warned the crowd, “that will unfortunately constitute your opportunity to ask questions of these individuals.”
“We believe, that should the project proceed, there will be substantial benefits flowing into the community,” Eva said as the crowd erupted again.
The first question read by Windsor was, “What gives you the right to take the voice away from our municipalities? Where is the democracy?”
“The regulations are provincial regulations governing the permitting and the approval of the wind projects under the Green Energy Act,” Eva answered to jeers from the crowd.
“I’m going to have to ask you to allow people to respond to the questions,” Windsor said, “because if we have 15 questions at once, this is not going to work.”
He repeatedly called for order, but the crowd continued to interrupt almost every answer.
“If we ask you to leave our community, how quickly can you pack up?” was the second question.
“We were asked to be here by some landowners,” began Sprott CEO Jeff Jenner, which drew another outburst from the angry crowd.
“It’s very difficult for anyone…to have 30 people shouting questions at them,” Windsor admonished the residents. “It’s not going to work, folks.”
But the crowd persisted, and so it went.
NOTE: A drop-in meeting on the same project is scheduled for Friday from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Pontypool Community Centre.
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