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Turbines go up in Smithville despite protests

After three years of protest, a group of Smithville neighbours are calling on Premier Kathleen Wynne in a last-ditch effort to stop wind turbines from taking over their rural community.

The first of five wind turbines slotted for a West Lincoln wind farm went up last Thursday – and had drivers rubbernecking on Twenty Road to take in the 140-metre structure.

Smithville resident Wendy Veldman doesn’t have to look far. The turbine sits just 550 metres (half a kilometre) from her house – the minimum setback distance in Ontario.

As a member of West Lincoln Wind Action Group, she has been protesting the turbine project for three years – and has a long list of outstanding health, safety, economic and environmental concerns.

“If these five go up, whatever, but I don’t want any more going up. I have resolved myself that there are probably going to be five here … but it’s not right,” Veldman said.

And with a Niagara company seeking approval for a larger project of 77 turbines – 44 of which would be in West Lincoln, she wants the government to intervene and give unwilling communities veto power against wind farms.

“The (gas plant scandal) is going to look like peanuts compared to the sham going in here,” Veldman said as the group looked out at the construction site across the field next to her house.

Last month, Wynne agreed the wind farm issue was a “lightning rod for discontent” with rural voters, but said the government had taken steps to address them.

“I want to hold her feet to the fire,” Veldman said Sunday. “We are not a willing host (for turbines) and we want it stopped. So come on Kathleen, stop it.”

The premier could not be reached for comment.

Veldman’s group tried twice to contest the project – first over concerns that the tall structures would be a dangerous interference to planes landing at John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport roughly 20 km to the west.

Nav Canada (the country’s civil air navigation service) dismissed those concerns last year, saying the project is small enough for basic radar surveillance to ignore.

The group was also concerned the turbines would be anchored to the same bedrock that touches the wells supplying water to 244 families living within two kilometres of the wind farm. But they lost that battle too – even though they say three wells were ruined during the construction.

“We can’t afford lobbyists and big donations to political parties … they (the wind energy companies) can,” said frustrated longtime resident Ed Engel.

John Andrews, president of IPC Energy – the lead company behind the project – said none of the residents’ concerns has been proven.

“They have our beliefs and we have ours,” he said. “The benefit is that we’re producing green, clean renewable energy …(turbines) have been around the world for years and years … I don’t see a whole bunch of crazy people running around in Europe.”

He says he has heard from the community “hundreds of times,” but the company is going ahead with construction.

“We hope they’re all up within two weeks’ time. It will take some time after that to get them actually running but they will be up.”