In a potentially precedent-setting move, Lambton County council will financially back a legal battle before Ontario’s Environmental Review Tribunal in an attempt to halt wind turbine construction.
After months of debate and staff reports, county politicians narrowly voted 17-16 Wednesday in favour of spending $20,000 to become a presenter in Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) cases involving Huron County families who are challenging further wind development near their homes.
Local anti-wind activists, who packed county council chambers Wednesday, erupted with applause after the recorded vote was tallied.
“I’m still in shock,” said Elizabeth Bellavance, of We’re Against Industrial Turbines Plympton-Wyoming (WAIT-PW). “I can’t believe we got it.”
Fellow WAIT-PW member David Bartlett said he wasn’t sure where the group’s request stood after months of debate around the council table.
“When I reflected back on the proceedings of the past council meeting, I didn’t think we had much chance,” he said.
Members of WAIT-PW had initially asked council to become involved in a civil case concerning a Goderich-based family and one wind turbine developer. However, they refined their request to ask for council’s support in front of the Environmental Review Tribunal.
That means council will now be able to state their concerns about the health impacts of wind turbines to the tribunal – the body responsible for wind turbine appeals from landowners.
It isn’t clear yet who will represent council at the proceedings.
County councillors remained divided Wednesday on whether taxpayer money should be spent on a case outside its jurisdiction.
While the county may benefit from a ruling, county solicitor David Cribbs said the specific tribunal decision wouldn’t likely halt wind development across Ontario.
“It’s more likely, I think, that a decision by the ERT would hold itself to the cases before it,” he said.
He also remained skeptical that $20,000 will cover the application process and lawyer’s fees.
“I don’t think $20,000 is going to bring us through the ERT,” Cribbs said.
Toronto lawyer Julian Falconer, who provided the estimate, currently represents three cases before the tribunal.
The county may also be out of time to apply to list its health-related concerns to the tribunal as a presenter, Cribbs said.
Proceedings have already begun in two of the three cases.
If the time to apply has elapsed, county council would instead give $20,000 to anti-wind turbine groups involved in the process.
Bellavance believes the county has a shot at still becoming involved in the cases.
Members of WAIT-PW successfully became presenters on one of the ERT cases late in the game, she said.
“The chance is there.”
But expect resistance from the Ministry of the Environment and wind companies involved in the proceedings, she said.
“They will attempt to keep the county out.”
Bellavance credited the work of supporters who sent emails and placed calls to county councillors before Wednesday’s vote.
She believes council’s decision may inspire other Ontario municipalities to become involved at tribunal hearings.
“Lambton County is showing leadership on this issue,” she said.
Plympton-Wyoming Mayor Lonny Napper also served a notice of motion to label Lambton County an unwilling host of wind turbines. The motion will come up for further discussion in the new year.