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Wind farm research ‘extensive’

NEW ROSS – Chester’s director of community development says a wind farm proposed for the municipality was the biggest project staff had ever dealt with, and they gave it exhaustive attention.

“We did the most extensive amount of research we have ever done on a project,” Tara Maguire told the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board appeal hearing Monday into South Canoe Wind Farm.

The former senior planner was instrumental in drawing up the development agreement between the municipality and the developers.

If approved, the $200-million wind farm will be the largest in the province, and possibly the Atlantic region, she said, having the tallest, greatest capacity and highest number of turbines of any wind project in Nova Scotia.

Developers Nova Scotia Power Inc., Minas Basin Pulp and Power Limited and Oxford Frozen Foods Limited plan to erect 34 three-megawatt turbines between Vaughan and New Ross.

Maguire told the appeal hearing that staff looked at volumes of reports, studies and environmental assessments after the application was submitted in October, “and I think we came to a reasonable conclusion.”

She said staff spent November and December reviewing reports on wind farms generated by such bodies as the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Health Canada, Ontario’s medical officer of health, and the Municipality of the County of Kings, which has placed a ban on major wind projects. It also looked at regulations governing existing farms.

She said that research “all shows that there’s a concern but nothing’s proven.”

On cross-examination from Emery Peters of the group Friends of South Canoe Lake, which filed the appeal, Maguire said there is “potential” for health and safety concerns and after analyzing numerous studies, “we determined it was controversial and that’s where we left it.”

She said staff did not tell council wind farms do or do not present a health hazard, though the provincial Environment Department has determined they do not pose a health hazard as long as certain regulations are met.

Maguire said once she submitted her report in January, council called a planning advisory committee meeting, a public information session and two public hearings because of the large turnout after the first hearing.

Maguire said the municipality took the extra step of sending letters to everyone living within two kilometres of the project and all those living around Lewis Lake to tell them of the meetings. That was an unusual thing to do, but “council realized the magnitude of the project. … We wanted to make sure we went above and beyond for this one,” she said.

Between 100 and 150 people showed up for the first public hearing, which was “extremely unusual,” she said. That meeting went until 10:30 p.m., so council called a second public hearing that attracted the same number of people and went until 11:30 p.m.

Maguire acknowledged some residents wanted council to defer its decision, pending the outcome of a Health Canada study into the health and safety of wind farms, but she said the developers expected a response “within a reasonable time” and it’s not known when the federal study will come out.

Homburg Group has also appealed the wind project because it planned to expand its golf course in Sherwood. It won’t do that if the turbines are built next to its property.

Maguire said Homburg didn’t voice any objections to the wind farm until after the public hearings had been held, and she said it made no oral or written submissions to the municipality.

Staff never considered doing an inventory of existing land in the area, nor did it analyze development potential for specific properties, rather looking at the overall impact on the community and implementing measures to minimize that impact, she testified.

Planning expert Douglas Foster testified for Homburg last week that Chester lacked a land-use inventory, and it needed that to determine if and how property owners would be affected by the wind farm.

Maguire said Monday many municipalities don’t have such an inventory, and it is not required by provincial regulations.

Councillors were shown an aerial photograph of the area, with the turbines overlayed; shown wind shield surveys; and they know that the area is primarily residential. She said they also knew about the golf course and the cottages, and that there is forestry and a park in the area.

Staff did drive out to the area, though Maguire said they did not take notes. She said they went “to get a feel for the location. It was not a detailed survey.”

Staff also looked at development potential for homes, and council developed setbacks it believes would minimize potential health and safety concerns, she said.

Maguire said the project has received approval from the Environment Department, though the development agreement has not been signed, and an environmental assessment places limits on sound and shadow flicker from the turbines.

The hearing continues in New Ross Tuesday.