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Wind critics optimistic about future lawsuits

A recent Superior Court decision in late April has possibly given homeowners an edge in fighting Industrial Wind Turbines in their area. That’s at least what lawyer Eric Gillespie and some Haldimand County residents believe.

Gillespie represented the Wiggins in Clearview Township when the couple took wind company WPD Canada to court. They claimed that they listed their 48-acre property for sale, and when the wind project was announced, all interested potential buyers disappeared.

In this case, the plaintiffs had filed appraisal evidence to indicate that the property had devalued by between 22 to 50 per cent or more because of the wind project.

The evidence submitted also included evidence from a medical doctor stating that the project could cause adverse effects including sleep disturbance, headache, dizziness, vertigo, nausea, problems with concentration/memory and panic episodes.

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice dismissed the case and ruled that the group couldn’t fight the project until it received its Renewable Energy Approval (REA) from the Ministry of Environment, but accepted the evidence into the record, as unchallenged by the wind company.

The wind company in that case had stated that if a trial did proceed, the wind company planned to dispute the plaintiff’s claims.

Gillespie said the result of that particular lawsuit is a win for homeowners. He stated that the court decision has done two things, which included accepting the evidence that turbines devalue properties by 22 to 50 per cent as well as opening the door for homeowners to file claims against turbine companies and the landowners who sign the agreements with the companies.

“The case has certainly caused a number of people to contact our office,” said Gillespie. “It’s also clear that there’s a lot of discussion amongst people that we’re already working with. As well, news of the case has travelled literally around the world.”

Even wind critics are optimistic about what the case in Clearview Township means.

“It looks favourable for any case that comes forward in the future because the court accepted the evidence,” said Betty Ortt, secretary at Haldimand Wind Concerns.

Ortt said she’s heard inklings of local residents in Haldimand County who have or plan to file their own claim, and she believes the Superior Court ruling in April provides these residents a sure thing to go forward.

“I do believe that the cases will be successful, and it is definitely a step forward,” she said.

Gillespie anticipates seeing more claims against wind companies now that he said the court has opened that door. He said currently, there is one claim against a wind company started and two additional claims that are close to finalizing in Haldimand County.

“[This] is the first clear indication from a court that once a project has been approved, claims of this nature are likely to be able to move ahead,” he said, adding that with “the circumstances in Haldimand where the three projects have already been approved, those claims can be filed right away.”

Others in the community are not so optimistic that the lawsuits will be successful.

“Property values and health issues are items that are difficult to quantify,” said Mayor Ken Hewitt, adding that property values fluctuate day-to-day, and proving that something has an impact on health is hard to do.

“I think that the province along with the different ministries are going to be faced with a number of different lawsuits. Some of them will be valid and some will not be valid,” he said. “The windmills are going up, and ultimately, if people, through the courts, can successfully prove their property values are adversely affected then I guess good on them. That’s their right to exercise if they choose to.”

One message that the mayor was clear on was that the county would not set aside the money collected from the wind companies that form the Community Vibrancy Fund (CVF) for such claims made by homeowners.

“That’s not going to happen. That’s not the intent behind the agreement. If an individual has cause to launch a lawsuit then that will be up to that individual to do that. This agreement was not crafted to launch lawsuits,” said Hewitt.

He said, “The spirit of the agreement is to help the community as a whole,” which could include accelerating road construction in rural areas directly affected by the turbines.

Haldimand County council members still plan to discuss and approve the perimeters of the fund. The initial CVF meeting was scheduled for April, but Hewitt said that meeting will likely take place in August now.

And through the individual council members, residents can voice their opinions about what they would like to see the money spent on.

He also said that council would be committed to spending a large sum of money upfront – likely as early as 2014 – rather than wait for the dollars to roll in before spending it.

“This council crafted the agreement. This council was criticized for this agreement so this council will spend a large portion of the agreement,” said Hewitt.