They came in droves, the majority, to hear council debate something they have long asked for – a two-kilometre setback for industrial wind turbines. What they got instead was a motion, that was later withdrawn by the alderman who introduced it, asking, among other things, for the province to extend its setback limits to two kilometres.
After five-and-a-half hours at South Lincoln High School, nearly two-and-a-half of which were spent on a public meeting for a technical report on a new St. Martin Catholic Elementary School in the Streamside subdivision, council moved to township hall. A crowd of roughly 40 stuck it out until 12:45 a.m. Tuesday for more debate on a motion brought forward by Ald. Alexander Micallef which was heavily criticized by most of council.
Despite the criticism, what council shared was a common frustration over how the province’s Green Energy Act has handcuffed its abilities to protect all residents of West Lincoln.
“We may not like it, I don’t like it, but the Green Energy Act is an act of royal ascent,” said Mayor Doug Joyner, once council settled into council chambers after having to evacuate SLHS for a midnight curfew. “When it comes to this bylaw, and let’s not kid ourselves, we all heard it here tonight … a two-kilometre setback is illegal.”
Joyner said much of Micallef’s motion – which also asks for staff to investigate the research of inter municipal groups and seek opportunities for council members to attend and learn more about what other municipalities are doing, for staff to research and provide council with materials on actions of municipalities which have taken action against turbines, that council, immediately after a new Liberal leader is found, send a message demanding the province immediately take action on a moratorium on industrial wind turbine projects until results of a federal health study are known in 2014 and that staff look at models for establishing a local advisory committee on the issue – had previously been approved by council.
“The province did what they did, they took away, stripped away the powers of municipalities in Ontario,” Joyner said.
“The only one who can cancel this is the provincial government,” he added. “Take your collective energy and go to Queen’s Park. It’s not that I don’t want to hear you or see you. You have to go the province. They are the people who can change this for you.”
While council members expressed concerns about exposing the community to litigation, such as the case in Wainfleet where Wainfleet Wind Energy Inc. is suing the township for passing a setback bylaw, members of the public were not.
“Illegal legislation of Dalton McGuinty started this,” yelled Mike Chalupa, who also spoke at last Wednesday’s council meeting at SLHS. “You have a right to do the same to them.”
“We don’t want them here,” he said in the direction of Tom Rankin, one of the proponents behind the IPC Energy project to build five turbines in Caistor Centre. “You don’t have 1,200 people saying yes, you have 1,200 people saying no.”
“It’s up to you to take your power back,” said Henry Van Ryn. “Send a strong message to the province and other municipalities. It’s time to stand up for what is right.”
While the first seven speakers were applauded and cheered, the case was different when the eighth speaker, Rankin, took the podium.
The crowd broke out in hysterics after two of Rankin’s employees held up maps showing the current turbine locations and the result of how a two-kilometre setback would affect the project.
“A two kilometre setback means no turbines in West Lincoln,” said Rankin, to which Shellie Correia, waiting in line to speak began shouting “You get it, you finally get it.”
“The Act does not permit you to pass a bylaw,” Rankin, whose company Rankin Construction is one of the proponents of the Wainfleet Wind Energy project which is suing the township of Wainfleet, warned council. “I’m sure you have had legal counsel talk to you about that. Just because Wainfleet did it, doesn’t mean you have to follow suit.”
Rankin wasn’t the only person to speak in support of wind energy at Monday’s marathon meeting.
Kithio Mwanza, of the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, urged council not to support a setback.
“The decision to pass a motion will expose the township to considerable court challenges,” he warned, adding past attempts have “not been successful.”
West Lincoln resident Alvin Krol, a lease holder in the 230 megaWatt Niagara Region Wind Corp. project, also took to the mic to speak in support of wind. He said he has no concerns for his health when three megaWatt turbines are installed on his property as part of the project and said change is needed – a change to green energy such as wind.
“I don’t believe that air passing through blades and coming out clean is going to cause health problems,” he said, adding council should “stand up for the good of the people. Whether it is popular or not.”
As the clock ticked towards 11 p.m., the time a council meeting must end under the procedural bylaw unless a motion is made to extend, planning chair Ald. Joanne Chechalk gave warning they would have to cut the public off at 11. By that time council had only completed a small portion of its agenda. Without a seconder for a motion by Micallef to extend, it looked like that would be the case until, at the last moment, Joyner agreed to second the motion. However, the mayor limited public comment to 15 more minutes to allow for council debate. Joyner also made a motion just before midnight to move the meeting across the street to township hall.
While the marathon council meeting ended without a vote, the debate on industrial wind turbines is far from over. Council will be back at the high school Jan. 28 for its regular council meeting, where Niagara Region Wind Corp. will make a presentation. That meeting begins at 7 p.m.
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