Frustration ran high during Tuesday’s preliminary hearing by the Environmental Review Tribunal into an appeal of the Ministry of Environment’s approval of the East Durham wind project.
“We matter. We have the right to speak. Why are you bulldozing through . . .” said Glenelg Township resident Orah Randall in an impassioned plea to Robert Wright, vice-chair of the ERT, who conducted Tuesday’s hearing.
She urged Wright to exercise his discretion and give people who were turned down by the Ministry of the Environment status at the upcoming ERT hearing, set to begin next month.
Randall was visibly frustrated that members of the community were being refused standing at the hearing because what they wanted to say didn’t fit into the narrow scope of the appeal launched by Leonard Van Den Bosch on Jan. 29, just days after the MOE approved the 23-megawatt East Durham wind project near Priceville.
In his appeal, Van Den Bosch claims that toxic chemicals contained in the concrete bases of three turbines next to his property will leach into the soil and contaminate groundwater that feeds the nearby Saugeen River.
He’s asking for mitigating measures to protect the environment and the health of people who take their drinking water from the river.
Later he elaborated that one of the environmental effects of the toxic chemical would be to threaten the redside dace, a fish found in the Saugeen River and some of the creeks on his property. It is a threatened species according to the Ministry of Natural Resources.
During a break, Van Den Bosch met with the 50 or so people at the hearing asking if they would be prepared to donate up to $200 to pay for a lawyer to handle the appeal. People were in agreement.
Several people were peeeved that Wright ruled status would only be given to those who promised to keep their comments at the hearing to the narrow scope of Van Den Bosch’s appeal – despite not having been told the wording of the appeal.
They reminded Wright the notice they received from NextEra about the appeal, which was prepared by the ERT, didn’t include Van Den Bosch appeal but simply stated the hearing would focus on issues that could cause serious harm to human life and severe and irreversible effects on plants, animal life and the environment.
James Pattullo, who lives near several proposed wind turbine sites, argued since the Van Den Bosch appeal was not circulated, residents who had to base their request for status on the generic wording contained in the notice, something he said was unfair.
“NextEra and the Ministry of the Environment are saying that people who participate in the hearing can only speak to the issues raised . . . by Mr. Van Den Bosch. But no one here has seen a copy of his appeal unless they privately got it from him,” Pattullo argued. “Now that we show up here and we’re told that Mr. Van Den Bosch is only talking about the concrete bases on these particular three turbines, so we’re not within the scope. They opened the barn door with this notice and now they want to close it. It’s too late.”
Pattullo said any attempt to exclude people from the hearing would be a clear breach of procedural fairness.
“How can you appeal something when you don’t know what the appeal is and they haven’t told you?” he said.
Pattullo said he followed the instructions contained in the notice of hearing that was circulated to neighbours, which included the case number for the Van Den Bosch appeal on the ERT website. However, when he typed in the case number “Nothing comes up.
“There is no notice of appeal. It’s not on the (ERT) website. Maybe it’s on the province’s environmental registry (EBR) website. I don’t know, I wasn’t referred there. I was referred to the Environmental Review website. That’s a clear breach of procedural fairness and anybody could appeal the results (of the hearing) and ask for a judicial review of the decision at the end,” Pattullo said.
Despite the protests, Wright ruled anyone seeking status would have to fit their arguments into the narrow scope of the issues contained in Van Den Bosch’s appeal.
However, he allowed that anyone refused standing would be allowed to present their arguments so long as they were restricted to the narrow scope of the appeal.
He gave then until Wednesday to let him know if they were prepared to meet that condition.
West Grey’s request for status at the hearing remains undecided.
The municipality has until today to outline its reason for seeking status and submit how it plans to do that in a general way.
But there is no guarantee the municipality will receive status, said Coun. Bev Cutting, who was representing the municipality.
Van Den Bosch asked at Tuesday’s hearing to have any construction on the project halted until the results of the hearing are made public, something Wright expects by the end of July.
Wright ruled that motion would be dealt with during the hearing, set to begin April 1 in the Durham community centre.