The Cham Shan temple project on the Oak Ridges Moraine in rural eastern Ontario is a massive network of four proposed Buddhist temples linked by pilgrimage trails to symbolize the four sacred Chinese mountains, each representing a Bodhisattva, or enlightened one.
Only the first temple has started construction, but already the entire $40-million project has been cast into doubt, following the Ontario government’s approval in December of a windfarm right in the middle of the pilgrimage zone, close enough to spoil the meditative vibe.
The dispute, which pits Buddhists against Ontario Liberals, and green energy entrepreneurs against rural landowners, is to be fought in an environmental review tribunal that is to deal with motions Wednesday, in anticipation of hearing evidence next week.
Ontario aims to take 10% of its electricity from wind by 2030, but the path to that goal is not clear. To a battle already clouded by concerns about health, wildlife and property values, this fight adds the curious but not unprecedented issue of “infrasound,” and its negative effects on concentration and meditation.
Already, the fight has drawn the intervention of a federal cabinet minister.
“This is unbelievable,” Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney, famous for his political outreach to religious and cultural minorities, wrote on Twitter Saturday. “They’re investing decades and millions to build this beautiful retreat. To be ruined by turbines? … Silence is their [Buddhists’] raison d’être.”
It is not obvious Mr. Kenney can do much about this provincial matter, but the fight might have a federal aspect, as there are complaints of lack of consultation from two local First Nations.
Mr. Kenney was responding to former York Region Police Chief Armand La Barge, who lives nearby in the Kawartha Lakes area, and says the Ontario government is “trampling the rights of rural Ontarians” by approving wind farms over local objections.
“Suddenly, ordinary citizens, people that have worked hard to protect this very important feature [the Oak Ridges Moraine, known as Ontario’s rain barrel] are fighting their own government to try to save the Oak Ridges Moraine from what I think is a disastrous policy,” Mr. La Barge said. “How do you upset the Buddhist community?”
Meditation aside, he fears the turbines will affect “the ability to enjoy your property, the sheer ability to sit outside. Remember this is a 747 turned on its side that’s rotating.”
Diane Chen, property manager of the Cham Shan temple project, said it is costly and arduous to make the actual pilgrimages in China, and so the Cham Shan project aims to reduce it to a manageable scale. The planned temples and gardens form the corners of a trapezoid, she said, with 19 turbines “right in the middle.” Five are now approved and due to be built next year, pending the result of this tribunal. The rest await approval.
The turbines would be at a distance from the temples, the nearest one a couple of kilometres away, but pilgrimage routes would cross closely. Ms. Chen is concerned about health effects, and said the provincial government is “ducking” the problem.
“This is not a small project,” she said. “We built a big concrete structure. We’re going to erect a wooden table on top. It’s not a little church on a little hill… We have specific rules on when we can build temples and meditation centres, and we relied on the natural environment at the time it was available 20 years ago. All this time we’ve been planning, we’ve been sinking money in, working with the local communities and municipality.”
Health effects are a controversial claim. The province’s approval cites the Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health’s finding that “scientific evidence available to date does not demonstrate a direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects.”
Paul Reid, a local activist who has helped raised $150,000 to finance the tribunal process, calls wind turbines a “blight” on the countryside that produce “a mouse’s fart of electricity.”
“If you lived out here, you can’t put a garbage shed on the Oak Ridges Moraine,” he said. “But you can put up a 46-storey wind tower to slice and dice every raptor that goes near it, and no problem.”
A similar Buddhist-versus-windfarm issue came up in Scotland, where property magnate Donald Trump recently lost a fight against offshore turbines near his golf course.
Organizers of the Tharpaland Buddhist retreat in southwest Scotland commissioned research on the effects of infrasound on concentration and meditation, and found that “to be able to meditate normally, a meditative retreater would have to be between 6-10 km from the windfarms.”
In the end, however, the monks of Tharpaland sold their land to Scottish Power.
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