TRURO – Colchester County staff have shown “total disrespect” to the mayor and council for approving industrial wind turbine projects prior to a pending decision regarding residential setbacks, a councillor says.
“It’s an absolute, total lack of respect for our committee, it really is, for our committee, for the mayor, for the council and for the people,” said a visibly irate Coun. Tom Taggart, regarding a staff decision to approve wind turbine projects in Truro Heights and Hilden.
“At the very least we should have been notified that they intended to (approve the applications)
“There’s something wrong here.”
The decision to approve the two projects, which will result in the construction of five industrial turbines, was sent out electronically to the applicants late Wednesday afternoon, Taggart said, following an environmental assessment review.
But given that municipal staff involved with making the decision have been privy to the fact the county’s Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) is reviewing the municipality’s existing 700-metre residential setback distance for industrial turbines, along with the strong public opinion that changes are required, Taggart believes approval should not have been granted until the PAC made its recommendation to council.
Failing that, he said, staff at the very least should have notified the mayor and council of its intentions.
“They knew when they approved that permit that we would be accused and seen as being sneaky and not being open with the public,” said Taggart who is chairman of the committee. “They had to know that. If they didn’t know that, something is wrong,” especially since members of the Friends of Harmony/Camden group made a presentation to council at last week’s meeting over the distance setback issue.
“Staff had an application on their desk at that time that they knew they were going to approve as soon as they got the environmental assessment and they never said a word to us,” he said.
During previous presentations, members of the group had asked council to put a moratorium in place on further approvals until the committee had completed its review of the setback issue but they had been told that was not necessary.
Taggart said he now can better appreciate the public sentiment and its distrust of council, although he believes those feelings may be directed at the wrong individuals.
“At the end of the day we’re responsible but we should have been notified,” he said.
The bottom line is, this thing has been controversial. We’ve had council chambers full at least four times with people opposed to this. And to think that we never even had a heads up, never even told the mayor. I don’t want to throw people under the bus here, but what just happened, to me as the chair of that committee, the public will think that we did that. They’ll have grounds to say that we did things behind their back, that we were sneaky…
“This whole thing won’t change what our recommendation will be but there should have been the decency to at least allow us to go through the process.”
On that note, Mayor Bob Taylor agreed.
“It took me by surprise too,” he said, of the staff decision. “There’s a planning review in place and I thought it was untimely.”
Taylor said council will be discussing the matter and looking at whether there is anything that can be done from a legal perspective.
“The only thing we promised the public is that we would do a review. And that doesn’t mean that we are going to change anything because I think we have a pretty decent bylaw there now,” he said. “But it does fly in the face that we did promise a review and that should be done first.”
CAO Ramesh Ummat said staff generally make such decisions based on current bylaws and other information or direction from council. If a recommendation for changes to the bylaw setback distance is forthcoming from the PAC, he said, that would require time to follow the process for first and second readings and so forth.
“But my understanding is, that until that process is in place, the existing bylaw is in place,” Ummat said.
As to whether council members should have been given a heads up on the matter: “It’s a tough question to answer,” he said, and in this case a judgment call was made by staff.
But Ummat also said the situation is being reviewed to see if the matter should have been handled differently.
“We’re just in the process of getting a legal opinion on it now,” he said.
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