A lawsuit over a controversial bylaw related to a wind turbine development in Wainfleet is now in the hands of a judge.
Wainfleet Mayor April Jeffs said she expects to hear a verdict in the next four to six weeks over whether a two-kilometre setback bylaw enacted by her town council will be allowed to stand.
“If it’s completely quashed, we’re going to have a lot of disappointed people in Wainfleet and across the province,” she said.
The lawsuit is the result of a municipal bylaw passed by Wainfleet town council last year that would force wind turbines to be built at least two kilometres from homes or property lines.
That bylaw was an attempt to overrule the 550-metre setback rule put in place under Ontario’s Green Energy Act.
Almost immediately, the township was sued by Wainfleet Wind Energy, a development company led by Niagara developer Tom Rankin, who believes the two-kilometre setback bylaw is illegal under the GEA.
The company plans to build five industrial wind turbines on property leased from private landowners.
The setback issue has been heard in St. Catharines court over the past few months, but last week the case was turned over to Justice Robert Reid.
Wainfleet chief administrative officer Scott Luey said it was initially thought it could take up to six months for a verdict to be reached, but the township’s lawyer said the judge would “expedite the decision.”
Luey believes the verdict will be a clear yes or no, rather than some sort of middle ground.
“I think the bylaw will be rendered null and void if we’re not successful, or upheld if we are successful,” he said.
Jeffs acknowledges that losing the case could be a costly result, both financially and politically.
Legal fees for the township are expected to approach $120,000, and if it loses the case Wainfleet Wind Energy is expected to ask for its legal fees to be covered as well, which could drive the cost closer to $250,000.
“It might make a short political career for me, but I would regret it if we didn’t fight it because of the genuine concern of the community,” Jeffs said.
“We get labeled as NIMBYs, but it’s not. There are people who genuinely are worried about this. And once they’re up, they’re up.”
A legal fund has been set up and the mayor said private citizens have been walking into town hall to offer help.
“When that started happening, I was really surprised. You don’t hear of that too often,” she said. “It shows how important this is to a number of people.”
Whatever the outcome of the lawsuit, Luey said he expects an appeal to be filed by the losing side.
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