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Gone with the wind?: Wind turbines could jeopardize $40M Buddhist retreat temple complex planned near Bethany

Proposed wind farms in Cavan Monaghan Township and the City of Kawartha Lakes could derail plans for a $40-million Buddhist retreat currently under construction near Bethany, The Examiner has learned.

“We are offering a meditation centre for people to come to as a retreat. How can we do this when there are huge wind turbines in the neighbourhood whirling away?” said Diane Chen, property development and special projects manager for Cham Shan Temple. “We believe in energy. This is upsetting the Chi of the whole place.”

The Buddhist Association of Canada’s Cham Shan Temple began purchasing a number of properties in the Bethany and Pontypool areas 20 years ago for the purpose of constructing four Buddhist gardens. Each garden would feature a main temple, each with its own set of smaller temples, modelled after the four great Buddhist mountain sites of China – Wutai Shan, Putou Shan, Omei Shan and Jihua Shan.

Construction on the centrepiece of the project – the Wutai Shan Buddhist Garden – is well underway at the Cham Shan Temple’s 530-acre property on Ski Hill Rd.

The main attraction will be a massive, three-story wooden temple, built using the ancient Chinese dougong method of construction – interlocking wooden brackets held together without nails or glue of any kind.

The concrete foundation for that temple is expected to be finished next month. The wooden temple itself was first built in China before it was dissembled and shipped to Bethany where it is expected to be reconstructed in 2014. Once completed, that site would also feature a gift shop, tea shop, restaurant and onsite accommodation.

The other three smaller complexes will be located off Pontypool Rd., Ballyduff Rd., and Hwy. 7A west of Bethany. The completion of the overall project over the next two decades will cover about 7,800 acres of land and cost more than $40 million, Chen said.

But while the temple at Ski Hill Rd. has gone past the point of no return, the future of the rest of the project is uncertain in the face of several wind farm proposals in the area, Chen said.

One proposal in particular, M.K. Ince and Associates’ Stoneboat wind farm, calls for at least four industrial turbines to be installed near Devil’s Elbow Ski Hill.

Those turbines would be visible at the Ski Hill Rd. site, Chen said.

“Our plan was to make our site an attractive site where people can come and admire the architecture,” she said. “If you would drive down Skill Hill Rd. to our site, you would see those massive wind turbines. They are 400 or 500 feet tall.”

The Stoneboat site has met vocal opposition from township residents already, but it’s one of only several proposals for the area.

The temple’s leaders invited representatives from Kawartha Lake’s city council, including Mayor Ric McGee, to the site Thursday and members of Cavan Monaghan Township council Friday.

The temple will also make a presentation to Peterborough County council Nov. 6 in an attempt to rally local municipalities to fight the wind farm proposals.

Chen said both Kawartha Lakes and Cavan Monaghan were on board.

But Cavan Monaghan deputy mayor Scott McFadden has long said municipalities have little power to fight unwanted wind farms despite promises made by Ontario Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli in May to give municipalities a greater say over the location of new wind and solar farms.

He has been hosting weekly town hall meetings on the topic, featuring residents from other communities and their David and Goliath experiences fighting wind farms.

McFadden said it would be a travesty if the province’s Green Energy Act were to kill the fulfilment of the entire Buddhist project slated to bring millions of dollars in tourism revenue to both municipalities.

“We’re horrified at the prospect of a provincial decision that could potentially devastate a plan 20 years in the making,” he said.

With the support of neighbouring municipalities, Chen said she hopes her group can gain enough traction to prevent the wind farms from setting up shop.

Being a registered charity, she said her group cannot go ahead with construction of a facility that deviates from its original vision – to build a meditative sanctuary, showcase traditional Chinese architecture and draw tourists from across North America.

“If we were to scale back or stop further development due to the wind turbines in our vicinity, not only the Chinese community of Canada but also that of China itself will be vastly upset by this turn of events,” Chen said. “The impact to the Buddhist Communities is significant, not to mention the impact of anticipated tourism to the County of Peterborough that will be significantly, adversely affected.”