Tree clearing and trail building by Horizon Wind on the Nor’Wester Mountain Escarpment is being criticized by a Thunder Bay citizen’s committee.
But, the company says it has to make trails so that soil testing equipment can be moved onto the site of its proposed Big Thunder Wind Park.
Nor’Wester Mountain Escarpment Protection Committee spokeswoman Irene Bond said Thursday that Horizon put out a newsletter claiming that it would be conducting tests and “tree trimming,” even though the City of Thunder Bay’s lawyer in April 2011, upon settling a lawsuit with Horizon, expressed to both council and the public that not a tree would be cut until all approvals and permits were in place.
“The work began a few days ago and is continuing as we speak,” said Bond.
She added that the committee has evidence that crews have cut a one-kilometre road into the bush, run over a creek bed and cut down 100-year-old hardwood maple trees.
“The land is (also) located on a protected watershed,” she said.
Bond suggested that “this is both outrageous and provocative behaviour on the part of the developer, showing no respect for either the city, Municipality of Neebing, Fort William First Nation, the residents or the provincial process for a renewable energy contract.”
Kathleen MacKenzie, Horizon’s director of community affairs, said the company is within its rights to cut a few trees and clear enough area for geotechnical studies.
“Under our lease (with the city), we have the right to do additional studies of the area. It’s a very normal routine thing we’re doing,” she said.
“Prior to beginning the design of the project, and prior to construction, we have to undertake a geotechnical study of the soil (composition) and geology in the area.
“It’s an expected step in the project, where bore holes are drilled to do soil samples,” said MacKenzie.
In order to get the drills in to the area to do the soil samples, access trails have to be cut, said MacKenzie, further explaining that tree trimming, clearing or cutting is involved.
“We are required to replant any sugar maples that we cut down,’’ said MacKenzie.
“The (concern expressed) about building a road is incorrect,” she said, noting that only small access trails have been cut into the bush to be used to bring the drilling equipment in.
“We sent out a newsletter in July to let people know about the company’s plans,” she said, as there may have been noise from chainsaws working in the area.
In order to get the required permits for the 16-turbine project, she said, “we have to submit design drawings, and we need the geotechnical data to develop the designs.”
In a news release issued Thursday, the City of Thunder Bay advised trail users to be aware of equipment working in the area.
Horizon Wind has begun geotechnical testing in conjunction with the proposed Big Thunder Wind Park project which requires the removal of some trees and brush clearing to allow access for equipment, and will not involve actual road bed construction, the release said.
“Horizon has recently accessed the city’s lands for the purpose of conducting feasibility studies, including soil testing,” said city manager Tim Commisso.
“Safety of the public who may be using the trails in the area is also a priority.”
In accordance with the city’s agreements with Horizon, limited tree cutting is permitted in advance of the various approvals the project requires, as was presented to city council on April 4, 2011. The release says that it was identified that “some pre-construction work on that site (including geotechnical testing in preparation of proposed road construction) will be required and will be permitted.”
Horizon has conferred with city staff and will be adhering to the general principles of the city’s public tree bylaw, which stipulates that trees will be preserved where possible. But it is acknowledged that some tree clearing is required. A replanting program is in place.
The city has retained Dillon Consulting Ltd. as its construction consultant and to monitor pre-construction activities on the site.
Horizon is working with KBM, a local firm considered experts in forestry management.
MacKenzie said Horizon doesn’t expect final approvals for the wind farm until late October.
Meanwhile, the company is hoping to form a community liaison committee to help guide it through the life of the 20-year project.
The committee would hold the company accountable, MacKenzie said, to ensure everything is done in accordance with government and community agreements.
Anyone interested in serving on the committee can contact MacKenzie at 1-807-631-8555.
For more information about Big Thunder Wind Park, visit www.bigthunderwindpower.ca.