Opponents of a proposed wind farm on Thunder Bay’s Nor’Westers escarpment remained unmoved Wednesday, a day after Horizon Wind Inc. announced it had reached a significant milestone in the provincial approval process.
The Toronto-based company said it’s optimistic its $50-million proposal for eight turbines on 7,000 hectares of city-owned land in the Municipality of Neebing will be approved this fall, now that the Ministry of Environment has deemed its application to be “complete.”
It’s the first time the project, which could involve up to 16 turbines, has got so far in the approval process, ministry spokeswoman Kate Jordan said Wednesday.
“We’re glad to be one step further along in the process to bring safe, renewable wind energy to Thunder Bay,” Horizon Wind CEO Anthony Zwig said in a news release.
Opponents and supporters of the project have 60 days to submit comments about it to the province’s Environmental Registry. Comment will be reviewed by the ministry before it decides whether to approve the wind farm or not.
Earlier this year, the company had threatened to take the ministry to court over what it felt was a long delay in getting its proposal to the completed stage.
Horizon spokeswoman Kathleen MacKenzie said Wednesday the company plans to withdraw its request for a judicial review.
“The posting (to the registry) occurred before any hearings on the judicial review, so it’s moot and we will withdraw it,” MacKenzie said in an email.
John Beals, president of the Nor’Wester Mountain Escarpment Protection Committee, said it seems to him that the ministry caved in when Horizon threatened to go to court.
“We are very disappointed that MOE and the City of Thunder Bay have given in to the bullying tactics of Horizon Wind,” Beals said.
Asked if the ministry felt bullied, Jordan said it simply followed the process.
“The ministry would not post an application to (the Environmental Registry) for public comment unless it was deemed complete,” she said in an email.
In April 2011, the City of Thunder Bay avoided a $126-million lawsuit by Horizon when city council voted 8-4 in favour of amendments to the original lease agreement for the land.
Beals said Wednesday “hundreds” of supporters of his committee feel the escarpment is a treasure that shouldn’t be developed.
One issue that appears to be settled relates to peregrine falcons.
In 2011, a few weeks before the provincial election that year, former Natural Resources minister Linda Jeffrey suggested the Horizon project might not receive a permit because of fears of falcon population disruptions.
On Jan. 24 this year, the status of peregrine falcons in the province was deemed to have “improved, and the bird was no longer considered endangered.
“So (Horizon) no longer has to obtain a permit under the Endangered Species Act to authorize impacts of peregrine falcon or its habitat,” said MNR spokeswoman Jolanta Kowalski.
The MNR will continue to monitor the site for falcon mortality rates, Kowalski said.
Horizon earlier retained a renowned Montreal-based bird expert who said the Thunder Bay wind farm won’t pose a threat to falcons.
Liberal MPP Bill Mauro, who in 2011 made Jeffrey’s concerns about falcons public, said Wednesday he still believes Horizon shouldn’t locate its wind farm on the Nor’Westers.
“There are still a lot of groups opposed to it, and I can’t understand why the company can’t look somewhere else,” said Mauro (Thunder Bay-Atikokan).
“I don’t think Fort William First Nation wants it there, and I don’t think the city does either, even though they signed a contract (with Horizon),” said Mauro, a former city councillor.
Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs, one of the dissenters in a 2011 vote, said at the time that the MNR’s concerns over falcons shows the ministry “did its due diligence.”
“I’ve said all along that (Horizon) should be looking at another site,” Hobbs said.
MacKenzie said the project does have its share of supporters in the city who are wary of speaking out publicly.
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