Turbine project approval prompts closed meeting; Anti-wind activists speak of “lying down in front of trucks”
News that Vineland Power’s Class 4 wind turbine project has received final approval prompted a closed session meeting of West Lincoln council on June 24, disappointing about 20 anti-wind turbine activists in attendance. Council received the news that the Ministry of the Environment granted final approval to the project, known as the HAF Wind Energy Project, late last week. After seeking public input, the ministry approval stipulates only that Vineland Power monitor sound levels around the turbines, report adverse effects, track bird and bat deaths, and establish a liaison committee with the township. West Lincoln planning director Brian Treble said the document did not identify any real role for the municipality as the project unfolds.
“If you read through the decision it goes on at length with respect to the conditions they have to satisfy, but the wording of the decision is pretty consistent in making sure the township doesn’t have a lot of control over the actions that occur,” he told council.
Councillors expressed similar frustrations. Coun. Sue-Ellen Merritt said the deal was just getting worse for West Lincoln. She likened the Province to a fox guarding the hen house, and was concerned Vineland Power would only have to report bird and bat deaths beyond a certain number.
“I don’t understand our government. It’s supposed to be a process, township has to follow a process, residents have to follow a process. It’s the fox watching the hen house,” she said.
“If the process wasn’t unfair enough, in this document it gets worse.”
Coun. Joanne Chechalk asked council to go into a closed session to candidly discuss the HAF installation. She said a closed session was needed to deal with potentially litigious issues related to the project.
“The legislation we face with the act is taking away the very rights given to us by the municipal act. I’m disappointed and confused as to why this is,” said Chechalk. “I would like to refer this matter to a confidential discussion because of potential litigation relating to wind energy.”
Council voted unanimously in favour of an in-camera session, frustrating about 20 anti-turbine activists and interested residents in attendance. Deb Murphy, co-chair of the West Lincoln Glanbrook Wind Action Group (WLWAG), and resident Catherine Mitchell, had hoped to speak to council in the belief members of the public could speak for 10 minutes.
However, earlier this year, West Lincoln revised its council proceedings so that members of the public must apply to make a delegation to council in advance of meetings. The change was made to deal with large numbers of public speakers at meetings that involved wind turbines.
Mayor Doug Joyner told Murphy and Mitchell that he appreciated their concern, but said he had likely heard their concerns in past meetings.
“If you wish to speak, you have to make a delegation to one of our council meetings. Stating that, I don’t think there’s anything written on your pieces of paper that we haven’t heard before.” he said. “Secondly, we feel how you feel.”
When interviewed in the lobby of town hall following the closure of council chambers, Murphy said she was surprised by the mayor’s decision to refuse public comment.
“We’ve been to an awful lot of council meetings, and they’ve always let us speak. It was an awful shock,” she said.
Catherine Mitchell presented the News with a copy of her planned presentation, which describes a recent move by Transport Canada to remove eight turbines from the Chatham-Kent area because they are too close to an airport. Mitchell fears the turbine companies will put the municipality on the hook, as the body that granted them building permits. She said the same danger might exist in West Lincoln.
“They’re examining the issue because the municipality issued the building permits. Who is going to be responsible for the economics of the removal of the turbines when the industrial wind companies say ‘The government gave us approval, and the municipality gave us the the permits,’” Mitchell said.
Mayor Joyner emerged from council chambers during a recess before council went into closed session and spoke directly with Michell and Murphy and their supporters. Joyner explained that the Green Energy Act compels municipalities to issue permits to green energy projects, regardless of local feelings, and said he did not believe a turbine company would be able to sue the municipality that issued a permit.
“It’s provincial law. It’s stamped by the crown,” he said.
“I think you’re being played,” said Mitchell.
“I don’t disagree with you,”Joyner replied. “But what do you want us to do? We have to do what the provincial government tells us to do. And that’s a point you all have to hear.”
Mayor Joyner said West Lincoln would open itself up to legal action and lawsuits if the town simply held a referendum asking residents what they thought of wind turbines. He explained that the “unwilling host” status claimed by West Lincoln simply meant the province may prefer willing municipalities over West Lincoln when looking at future projects. The declaration has no effect on current projects and is not legally binding.
“I’m thinking in the future you’ll be sued by the industrial wind turbine companies and the members of the public as well,” said Mitchell. “We are the taxpayers. We are the municipality, we are the region, we are the province. It is a disaster.”
Mayor Joyner suggested Mitchell’s comments were inspired by the presence of a reporter in the room.
“Catherine, I know you’re saying this for (the reporter)’s benefit as well,” he said. “But you’re preaching to the choir.”
“You’re telling us there is nothing we can do. It’s very discouraging. We’re left laying down in front of the trucks,” Mitchell sad. “We’re left like hippies chaining ourselves to trees and fences.”
Joyner said the best means of protest was continuing to let provincial politicians know exactly they felt. The following morning, Mitchell sent an email to the News, typifying council’s refusal to hear her presentation during council as the “death” of democracy.
“Democracy faded to black last night. West Lincoln council will no longer hear comments from the public. The 10-minute window in which citizens of West Lincoln could express their concerns has been banged shut,” she wrote. “When the voices of the citizens have all been silenced do you really have a democracy?”
Meanwhile, the man behind the construction of the HAF Wind Energy Project said construction can start anytime. Thomas Rankin of Rankin Construction in St. Catharines said no timeline has been set to get shovels in the ground, but nothing now lies in the way of the project.
“We have the approval to go right now. It’s just a matter of mobilizing and getting going,” said Rankin.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding