WAINFLEET – In what Mayor April Jeffs called the most divisive issue she’s faced since becoming mayor three years ago, council chambers got heated Tuesday night as residents gave their opinions on the $40,000 grant to Skydive Burnaby’s legal fight against the Wainfleet Wind Energy Inc. turbine project.
“I recognize it’s a really divided issue,” she said. “Unfortunately I think we may have lost sight of the bigger picture. We do believe we’re protecting the municipality and we’re using every tool in the toolbox to do so.”
While no decision on the grant was made Tuesday, council did meet behind closed doors with lawyers before hand to discuss legal options and ramifications.
In December, council voted to give $40,000 to Skydive Burnaby to help with legal costs. The business is currently embroiled in an Environmental Review Tribunal over safety concerns regarding two turbines to be built by Rankin Construction to the rest of Skydive Burnaby. The tribunal is expected to continue into next week.
In opposition to the grant, delegate Joan Anderson said it’s not about whether or not turbines are good or bad.
“This is purely a fiscal concern about the use of taxpayer moneys,” she said.
With lawyers for Rankin Construction launching legal action against the Township’s decision to grant the money, Anderson said the cost could increase drastically.
“Hypothetically this number could very well double,” she said.
While Anderson said the debate wasn’t about the health and safety concerns of turbines, Andrew Watts said it has everything to do with those concerns.
“My belief is you have done just that, you have tried to protect all Wainfleet residents,” he told council.
Watts called the $40,000 grant a “continuation of a fight” the Township launched after doing its own research and coming to its own conclusions.
Under normal circumstances he said he would oppose the municipality spending the money, but when it comes to the turbine debate “these are not normal circumstances.”
“(When it comes to fighting turbines) I’d be quite happy for you to spend us into the ground, because if you don’t Wainfleet is dead,” he said.
Another resident, Dan Augustine, said the latest decision to grant the money to Skydive Burnaby is just another example of a council that “continues to squander and waste taxpayers’ hard earned money.”
Augustine asked for the resignation of any member of council who voted for the grant, to reverse the decision to grand the money, to come up with a communications plan that doesn’t keep residents in the dark, and to take some ethics training.
Finally, he said council should focus on the 6,000 residents of Wainfleet, and not just the turbine opponents.
But Ald. Richard Dykstra accused Augustine of not being at council in support of the entire township.
“Are you here in support of the rest of taxpayers, or are you only in support of Dan Augustine?” Dykstra asked.
“I’m here as a concerned taxpayer,” he responded.
Ald. Ted Hessels, who voted against the grant, still said the $40,000 is “nothing compared to what the provincial level at Queen’s Park is doing to us.”
According to treasurer Robyn Madere, the Township has spend roughly $190,000 on the turbine issue to date. That doesn’t include the $40,000 grant to Skydive Burnaby.
Ald. David Wyatt said that by not spending the money and fighting the turbine project the Township could see an annual loss in tax revenue because of the lowering property values due to turbines.
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