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‘We have too much to lose to not to do anything’; Residents appeal wind energy approval in Caistor Centre

While there is no turtle to save the day in West Lincoln, two residents are hopeful a recent overturning of wind energy approval in the province bodes well for them.

Last week, the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists won their appeal to the Environmental Review Tribunal over the environment ministry’s approval of a nine-turbine project on public land in Prince Edward County. It was one of two appeals launched against the project which received approval just before Christmas.

The other appellants, Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County, who launched their appeal on the basis of potential adverse health effects, did not meet the test of proving a causal link between wind turbines and human health.

The former group however, won their appeal, on the grounds of the project having serious and irreversible harm to the Blanding’s turtle, a species already listed as threatened in the province.

While it was good news, the Alliance had hoped to win on grounds of health concerns.

“It leaves questions unanswered,” Gord Gibbons, president of the Alliance, told The Star. “We expected to win on the health (concerns).”

Anne Fairfield and Edward Engel of West Lincoln, are hoping to do the same with their appeal to the recent ministry approval of the HAF Wind Energy Project.

Last month, the province gave the green light to the five-turbine project destined for the Caistor Centre area. Fairfield and Engel will be surrounded by all five, with the closest 660 metres from their rural home. The couple is launching the appeal on behalf of the West Lincoln Glanbrook Wind Action Group, a citizens group formed in opposition to the project and a much larger one destined for the Wellandport and St. Anns area. The appeal was filed July 4.

“We don’t have a choice,” said Fairfield. “When we have met so many people from earlier projects that cannot live in their homes anymore and cannot sell their homes anymore.

“We have too much to lose to not do anything.”

According to Fairfield, there are 244 homes within a two-kilometre radius of the proposed wind turbines. She said scientific studies show a significant number of those residents will experience annoyance or illness from the turbines. She fears many will have to leave their homes.

Human health is not Fairfield’s only concern. She fears the turbines will impact livestock in the area and will also affect water wells – the sole source of drinking water in that area of the township.

“My immediate concern was for water wells because of what happened during the earthquake in ’86,” said Fairfield, who learned of the HAF project just prior to the first public meeting on the application in 2010. “The turbines will do the same thing only an earthquake is a one-time event, the turbines will be blowing and turning everyday.”

Proponents behind the five-turbine project are confident the project will proceed as planned.

“The project team respects the process which allows individuals the right to appeal a Ministry of Environment decision,” said Tom Lewis, project manager. “It is a matter that will be heard by a tribunal appointed by the Ontario government later this year.”

Lewis does not believe the appeal will delay the project.

“The project team feels confident in the quality of studies in the development of the project over many years,” he said. “We are now in the process of preparing for construction and tribunal.”

Lewis said there are many reasons the project should go forward, most importantly, wind turbines are a clean source of energy.

“They will produce 20 years of clean energy, provide enough power for 2,500 homes per annum and they have an estimated greenhouse gas reduction of 14,000 tonnes per year,” Lewis said. “And this project is locally owned and operated. It’s not a mega corporation from outside the community coming in. It’s a community-owned project, made up of owners from Niagara.”

Fairfield and Engel are hopeful that if the ERT does not side with them on the health issue, it will side with them on environmental concerns as it did in the recent Ostrander Point wind project.

“That was a big achievement,” said Fairfield of the Prince Edward County decision. “It was the first time the tribunal decided against wind turbines. It was a complete victory and complete vindication of what we have been saying all along.”

Engel and Fairfield have retained Eric Gillespie, lawyer in the Ostrander tribunal, to represent them.

“He has proven that these contracts can be cancelled,” said Fairfield. “We strongly believe there are sufficient reasons for the same outcome here in West Lincoln.”

Engel and Fairfield are not the only West Lincoln residents up in arms over the province’s approval of the HAF project. In response to the news, West Lincoln council met in-camera during its June 24 meeting to discuss potential litigation. Members of council expressed their frustration over the Green Energy Act and its limitations for local decision-making.

“We are happy to do this on behalf of our neighbours,” said Fairfield, noting the only positive to come out of the proposed wind farms is the number of caring, intelligent people she and Engel have met. “Everybody has a lot to lose.”

— with files from Torstar News