A Plympton-Wyoming anti-wind group is taking aim at the Ontario Ministry of the Environment over what it claims was a lack of quick access to documentation on a proposed Suncor wind project.
Investigators with the Ontario ombudsman’s office recently spoke with two members of We’re Against Industrial Turbines – Plympton-Wyoming (WAIT-PW). The group is now preparing documentation to send over to validate their claims.
The crux of the complaint centres around a delay in accessing documentation at Sarnia’s Ministry of the Environment office this winter.
Although Suncor released its detailed proposal for its 46-turbine Cedar Point Wind Power Project for public comment in early December, members of the group say they weren’t able to access a hard copy of the documentation at the local ministry office until the beginning of January.
They also claim some media reports cited the wrong deadline for public comment, causing confusion for residents looking to provide feedback on the project.
However, the Ministry of the Environment didn’t grant an extension on the 60-day comment period, despite both the Town of Plympton-Wyoming and Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey calling for one on the group’s behalf.
“Our feeling was we really only had 30 days and there is so much documentation that we wanted to go through it and be fairly careful of it,” said Santo Giarno, of WAIT-PW.
“A lot of it is field studies for natural heritage – like waterways, woodlands and threatened species – and archeological field notes.”
While the documentation was available online for viewing, Giarno said many of its members live out in the country without reliable Internet access to view the more than 2,000-page proposal.
“Most of them are on dialup and they couldn’t get the documents,” he said.
When member Audrey Broer called the Sarnia MOE office, she said she was told the compliance officer who was handling the project was off sick. The group had to wait until the officer returned to view the public documents, she added.
Once Broer heard back from the officer days later, she went into the office to learn the group couldn’t photocopy the documents nor compare the printed copy with the online version by using an office computer.
One of the office’s two compliance officers is now on extended leave, she noted.
“I don’t mean to fault (local workers) for these problems,” she said, “but I think this office is understaffed for the amount of industries here for one officer to be handling these requests.”
While an MOE officer who handles the area was on leave during the comment period, Ministry of Environment spokesperson Kate Jordan said another officer was assigned acting responsibility.
“During the public comment period, ministry staff from offices both in Toronto and Sarnia had frequent contact with members of We’re Against Industrial Turbines via e-mail, telephone and in person,” she wrote in an e-mail.
According to MOE records, members of the group viewed the files on Jan. 3, 7 and 11. The deadline for comment was Feb. 3.
Proposals are typically posted to the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry for 30 days, Jordan noted. In the case of wind turbine proposals, the ministry has been posting proposals for 45 days or more.
Ministry officials actually posted the Cedar Point proposal for 60 days due in part to the level of public interest and because the comment period fell over the holiday season, she noted.
But WAIT members argue they didn’t receive that full 60-day window because of the delay at the Sarnia office.
“There’s a fine line between promoting certain government policy and ensuring that the people’s voices are heard, that we have a chance to comment fairly, and we think in this particular case, the ministry stepped over the line,” Giarno said.
Once the group files its information on the delay, staff will determine whether or not an investigation is warranted, said a spokesperson from the Ontario ombudsman’s office. The body has the authority to investigate the practices of provincial ministries, Crown corporations, tribunals, agencies, boards and commissions.
Members of WAIT-PW aren’t the only ones expressing concern about public comment periods for wind turbine projects.
Lambton County council recently asked the Ontario Energy Board to delay a decision on granting leave for the construction of electrical infrastructure along county roads for the Jericho Wind Energy Centre.
Last year, NextEra Energy Canada initiated the application as part of its plans to build a 92-turbine wind operation in Lambton Shores and Warwick Township.
But county council only recently approved a 60-day public comment period before it decides on a road user agreement with NextEra.
The county solicitor recently warned council the energy board could go ahead and make a decision in April.
“This (wind energy approval) process has been probably the most weighted, unfair process I’ve ever seen,” said Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley, who sits on county council.
He helped facilitate the recent conference call involving WAIT-PW members and Ombudsman investigators.
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