A French plan to set up wind turbines near the site of the D-Day landings that changed the course of World War II has enraged many who say it desecrates the memory of the liberators.
The proposed wind park off the Normandy coast involves 75 windmills, each 100 metres (300 feet) high, and will span the areas where British and Canadian forces landed in 1944. The closest windmills will be only about 10 kilometres (six miles) from shore.
The project, being led by state electricity provider EDF, is part of a strategy to use renewable energy to account for almost a quarter of France’s needs by around 2030.
Meetings are being held across Normandy to discuss the thorny issue. They are being conducted in both English and French – the latest held Wednesday at Arromanches-les-Bains, where the British soldiers landed.
“These beaches belong to history. It’s from here that the liberation of the world began. If you allow the comparison, I don’t think the Germans would permit the construction of a wind park next to the ruins of a concentration camp. These are sacred areas,” said Karel Scheerlinck, a Belgian who lives in the town.
Claude Brevan, the head of a commission organising the meetings, said the wind park would span an area from Arromanches-les-Bains to the nearby fishing port of Courselles, where Canadian soldiers fought their way ashore.
American landing sites would not be affected, she said.
“We owe it to these soldiers, to these veterans who were dog-tired but had the courage to land, to respect the freedom that they gave us,” said Gisele Forknall, the widow of a World War II soldier, who travelled from the south of France to attend the meeting.
“Windmills are OK. But not here. There has been too much blood spilt,” she said.
William Jordan, a Briton who offers guided tours of the area, gave another reason.
To imagine the events of June 6, 1944 – when thousands of Allied vessels arrived – one “needs an empty horizon like a painter needs an empty canvas,” he said.
But many others say they understand the decision.
Veterans “believe in the future. They have offshore wind farms in their countries. They are thinking about future generations,” said Anne d’Ornano, a former local official who met with Canadian veterans.
“They just want their regiment’s insignia to be there somewhere as a sign of homage.”
Adrian Cox, a Briton who is a municipal councillor at Arromanches-les-Bains, said there had been growing concern among veterans due to a “lack of information”.
He said he had received outraged emails asking: “How can they have windmills on the beaches?”
“But two years ago I met a veteran. He looked around and then he said ‘This is not my beach. When I landed these buildings were not there. There are friends buried under them.'”
Christophe Collet, who heads an association aimed at preserving the memory of the fallen soldiers among young Canadians, said he found the controversy a bit pointless, especially as there was no brouhaha when marinas were built at the sites.
“It is our duty to remember them in our hearts,” he said.
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