A plan to develop a noise bylaw aimed at regulating industrial wind turbines in rural areas was debated in an unusual fashion by Kincardine council last week, but ultimately, no decision was made to support it.
Warren Howard, a councillor for North Perth, presented the plan during last Wednesday’s council meeting, not as a member of his council, but as a representative for HALT (Huron-Kinloss Against Lakeshore Turbines). The concerned citizens group has been working steadily over the past few months, with lawyer Kristi Ross, of Fogler, Rubinoff, in Ottawa, to develop a bylaw that would regulate audible noise from industrial wind turbines. The goal is to create a bylaw that is defendable and does not conflict with provincial standards.
While the Ontario Ministry of the Environment allows audible noise of up to 51 decibels for wind energy projects, ambient rural nighttime noise is typically in the range of 20 to 25 decibels, Howard noted.
“Municipalities are seeing that noise bylaws need to be updated because of what is happening in the rural environment,” he said. “Municipalities can’t prohibit Green Energy Act activities, but there is potential to regulate them.”
Howard and representatives from HALT have made similar presentations to other municipalities who have announced their status as not willing host communities for wind energy projects in an attempt to form a coalition. Howard told Kincardine council that it makes sense to have municipalities work together and share the cost of creating a generic bylaw that could be used by each of them. He anticipates that the bylaw will be challenged and so funds will be required to cover legal fees. In total, an estimated $300,000 is needed to develop the bylaw and defend it. The group is hopeful that municipalities that wish to participate will pledge an amount of money and key municipalities will take charge of the process and handle the funds.
Howard said that the Municipal Act gives municipalities the power to protect the health, safety and well-being of their residents and to enact bylaws that prohibit activities or acts that would be considered public nuisances. He referenced a recent court decision in Wainfleet, where the municipality had developed a bylaw that required a two-kilometre setback for wind turbines. The bylaw was challenged in court and Wainfleet was unsuccessful in defending it. However, Howard said, the judge would not go as far as to say the bylaw was in conflict with the Green Energy Act because the Municipal Act contains provisions to allow municipalities to control public nuisances, noise and matters related to health and safety.
Councillor Randy Roppel said he sat in on meetings in Ripley and Underwood where the idea of developing a noise bylaw was discussed.
“There’s a lot of interest out there in this venture with respect to other municipalities,” he said. “It’s time for due diligence. I would like to see this municipality step up to the plate and agree to be part of this coalition and set aside funds.”
Councillor Jacqueline Faubert, who has been vocal in her defense of residents who have raised health concerns about industrial wind turbines, said it’s no surprise that Kincardine is one of the first places that Howard has visited. She cautioned that a bylaw will not be a cure-all, but it will be helpful.
Councillor Maureen Couture said she is pleased to see a plan that involves multiple municipalities.
“I’ve never wanted to see Kincardine take something on ourselves,” she said.
She asked if any other municipalities had committed to being part of the coalition and contribute funds. Howard said that, so far, no one has formally signed on. Couture introduced a motion for CAO Murray Clarke to meet with HALT’s lawyer, Ross, and the municipality’s lawyer to review the plan and bring a report back to council with a recommendation. With some councillors wanting to act immediately to support the coalition and others hesitant to get involved, this motion was narrowly defeated.
Deputy mayor Anne Eadie said she could support joining the coalition and contributing money toward the bylaw and its defense if a memorandum of understanding could be developed requiring other participating municipalities to formally commit a certain amount of money. If 20 or 30 municipalities each contributed $5,000 or $10,000, the coalition would have the funding it needs, she said.
Howard said he wasn’t opposed to the idea, but said the group’s focus is on determining if there is enough support to even move forward to develop the bylaw.
Councillor Ken Craig pointed out that Kincardine already has a noise bylaw that lists activities, including farm practices, that are exempt. He said the bylaw specifies clearly audible noise, which would apply to wind turbines.
“Why haven’t we had our bylaw officer go out and say, ‘Turn that thing off’?” he asked. “Why haven’t we done that?”
Eadie replied that if the municipality took that action it would certainly be taken to court. The benefit of being part of the coalition, she said, is that there is strength in numbers and the cost of litigation would be shared.
“The bylaw may look very much like your bylaw,” he said. “I just wouldn’t want to take on Samsung myself.”
Craig said he, like Couture, would value input from municipal staff.
“I will go there as long as staff says, ‘Yeah, go there.’”
Councillor Jacqueline Faubert said the Armow Wind Project is expected to generate $450,000 in taxes annually, a significant portion of which will go to the municipality.
“It takes just one municipality to get the ball rolling,” she said.
She introduced a motion to join the coalition and set aside $50,000 in a reserve fund to assist.
“From us?” mayor Larry Kraemer exclaimed. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
Eadie asked for an amendment to the motion to include a memorandum of understanding that would be signed by all participating municipalities. She added the funding amount should be lower.
Roppel said if Kincardine is not willing to make a funding commitment it should not be asking for a memorandum of understanding from other municipalities.
Faubert said she would be willing to include the MOU requirement in the motion. However, when a vote was taken, this second motion was defeated.
Councillor Candy Hewitt introduced yet another motion, echoing the items included in Faubert’s motion, but reducing the funding commitment to $10,000. That final motion was also narrowly defeated.
“This discussion is going nowhere,” said councillor Ron Coristine. “I feel like I’m going on a blind date and I don’t know where or who with. And I don’t go on blind dates.”
Mayor Larry Kraemer said council could support the plan from HALT in principle, but council declined and Howard was reluctant to take that path.
“We’re looking for dollars,” he said. “Without funding this is dead in the water.”
“Well, thank you for coming,” Kraemer said.
There is a hint that Kincardine may look further into the plan for a multi-municipal coalition and noise bylaw, as Craig will introduce a motion at tonight’s council meeting to have staff contact the municipality’s lawyer for guidance.
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