There’s a familiar smell in the air for realtors in Haldimand, and it’s not a pleasant one.
About a decade ago, homeowners in the newly minted municipality of Haldimand were worried about pigs. Large industrial pork operations were moving into the area, and residents and politicians alike were concerned about the environmental and fiscal impact of the farms. A farm of 3,000 hogs produces as much sewage as a town of 10,000 people. Aside from the foul smell, hog manure is a vector for E. coli bacteria. Run off from farms was known to infiltrate ground water, and vaporized manure was known to cause lung problems in humans.
A vocal grass roots opposition group arose to protest the farm operations. These landowners were accused of being simple “NIMBYs” (Not In My Backyard), short-sighted bumpkins who were damaging local economies for purely selfish reasons. Housing prices near farm sites dropped, while housing values for taxation purposes remained stubbornly fixed.
This pattern of events is unfolding all over again, say local realtors, as Haldimand becomes home to one of Canada’s largest wind energy projects. Candace Stern, of Chase Realty, helps buy and sell property throughout the county. She said the current events are strongly redolent of the pig farm problems from the early 2000s
“Years ago, we had a similar situation with regard to pig farms,” she said. “It was horrible. The same horror. We didn’t know what to expect and property values went dramatically down, instantly.”
Stern is not the only person to draw this comparison. Another realtor, who has worked in Haldimand for the last 15 years, said the turbine situation seemed to be a repeat of the pig farm debate.
The realtor, who asked not to be named for fear of causing problems for some of his clients trying to sell property, said a nearby turbine is never good news for a homeowner.
“It’s not a positive impact. I’ve got to be careful of what I say, as a realtor, but for clients it’s always a negative,” he said. “People like that we’re going for more sustainable systems, but people also don’t want it in their backyard.
He said specific concerns from potential buyers run the gamut from purely aesthetic considerations to serious health problems. One of his clients has a very clear problem with “flicker” caused by shadows from a nearby turbine.
“I have one particular person who has a cottage and every time they go they have to close the shutters because they create a shadow at certain times of day. The shadow drives them nuts, it’s like a strobe light going all day,” he said. “That cottage is going to be a problem to sell. Even at night they can feel the vibrations.”
Meanwhile, the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), the body responsible for determining property values for taxation purposes, blandly asserts that turbines have no effect on housing prices. In a report released in 2012, MPAC stated “To date, MPAC’s analysis of sales has indicated that the presence of wind turbines that are either abutting or in proximity to a property has neither a positive nor negative impact on its value.”
Stern dismissed MPAC’s analysis as not representative of reality on the ground. She said homeowners are scared, and confronted with conflicting reports as to the safety of the installations. Unqualified to judge the science, they are erring on the side of caution. Realtors are now commonly required to identify the presence of a turbine near a property, or even that it may be near one in the future.
“Home owners are frightened. It’s the unknown. I’ve had clients buy property, and neighbours, unbeknownst to them, have negotiated for turbines, and now these massive, horrible things are going up. What rights do they (the homeowners) have? Nobody knew about it,” she said. “I don’t know that the MPAC people live under these horrible creatures.”
Stern does believe she has some cold comfort for residents of Haldimand currently living in the shadow of turbines, and residents of Niagara who will soon see them rising on the horizon. She believes property values will stabilize and rise in time, as turbines become a familiar site in rural Ontario.
“Ten years have gone by, and nobody cares about the pig farms anymore,” she said. “Values that were reduced on account of them have gone back to where other properties are.”
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