Millions in donations, tourism revenue hang in the balance as wind farms get in the way of Buddhist development
PETERBOROUGH – Peterborough could stand to lose millions in economic spinoff if wind turbines throw a permanent wrench into plans to build a Buddhist complex near Bethany. According to a cost-benefit analysis put together by Peterborough Economic Development, the series of temples and their meditation retreat centres would be the largest Buddhist complex outside China, and could draw roughly 45,000 visitors per year.
While the temples will be free to visit, the agency estimates they could generate more than $20 million for Ontario’s economy, when considering the cost visitors will pay to eat, sleep and take in other attractions in the area.
It’s a conservative estimate, says Fiona Dawson, director of tourism for Peterborough Economic Development, who says the agency didn’t hire a consultant to do the report. Instead, it plugged numbers into a widely-used economic impact model to get a general sense of the temple’s impact on the economy. Looking beyond the project’s immediate impact on tourism, Ms. Dawson says the temple project offers significant potential.
“This opens up a whole other market for us in tourism,” she says. According to the cost-benefit analysis, Ontario sees 52 per cent of the total visits Chinese visitors make to all provinces. On average, the visitors spend $1,169 per stay, not including airfare.
The benefits of the project are obvious, says Diane Chen, property development and special projects manager for the Chan Sham Temple.
“The architecture will be unique around the world,” she says, adding the temples will feature ancient Chinese building techniques called Dougong, without using a single nail.
The largest Buddhist complex outside of China, it’s the first project of its kind in North America.
“It’s history in the making,” Ms. Chen says.
She can still remember standing by at a ground-breaking ceremony for the first phase of the Cham Shan Temple project on Ski Hill Road in Cavan Monaghan Township. It was a day of celebration shared by representatives of the association, federal, provincial and municipal dignitaries, and community members. Chinese government officials and visitors from Buddhist communities in China also traveled overseas to take part in the ceremony.
After decades of fundraising and a meticulous worldwide search for the perfect spot, the Buddhist Association of Canada Cham Shan Temple was finally ready to started building a series of temples modeled after the 4 Great Buddhist Mountains of China. There, the sites are miles apart and it can often be cost-prohibitive and physically challenging for visitors to make pilgrimages to the sites, Ms. Chen says. This project would make the process accessible and easier for people looking for a similar experience.
Three years later, Cham Shan Temple and its congregation members aren’t celebrating anymore. Instead, Ms. Chen has been writing letters to provincial ministers and lobbying for the Premier of Ontario to step in to block proposed wind farms that threaten the viability of the four temples. She’s also answering concerned calls from the Buddhist communities and donors who are worried about the future of the project and the millions of dollars in donations already invested in the purchase of 1,700 acres and the first phase of construction.
The temple complex is meant to serve as a place of peace and meditation for visitors, and wind turbines aren’t part of the deal, Ms Chen says. She adds peer-reviewed reports prove the infrasound generated by the wind turbines interferes with the ability to concentrate, which is the key to meditation.
The four temple sites form the corners of a trapezoid, with four proposed wind farms in its centre.
The developer of one of the Stoneboat Community Wind Farm recently backed out, but Ms Chen is concerned the contract awarded to the project could be snatched up by someone else.
Martin Ince, who was behind the wind farm, had trouble getting landowners on board for the project, which would have straddled the border between Cavan Monaghan Township and the City of Kawartha Lakes.
This wind farm would have directly faced the first phase of Chan Sham Temple’s construction.
At the same time, the temple teamed up with Manvers Wind Concerns and Cransley Home Farm Limited to appeal the Sumac Ridge wind farm planned for the Manvers area.
The appellants are in the midst of going through an Environmental Review Tribunal Process that has been adjourned until April 8.
While there’s no construction planned at the other three temple sites until the future of the wind farms is clear, Ms. Chen says it’s too late to halt the project entirely.
The first phase on Ski Hill Road –the Wutai Shan Buddhist Garden– is already well underway and is the centrepiece of the project.
“We have invested a lot of time and money into this project,” Ms. Chen says. Construction workers from China are expected to arrive in May to work with a local construction company to assemble the first wooden temple. The temple was constructed in China, then taken apart and shipped to the site. Its re-assembly is expected to take two years.
When completed, the wooden temple will sit on top of a concrete structure that’s been complete since December 2013.
“This isn’t a little church on a little hill,” Ms. Chen says.
Throughout the process, she says Cham Shan Temple has formed strong ties working with the local communities and has discovered potential for several partnerships.
In addition to providing facilities for non-profit organizations to use sections of the site to grow organic produce and preserve types of seeds that are dwindling in Canada, the Wisdom Pond at the site has also been proposed for use as a skating rink in the winter.
“Careful consideration will be given to each request,” Ms. Chen says, although the temple will have to look into liability and insurance issues. The temple will be open to all members of the public without admission fees, although it will welcome donations.
Ms. Chen says the temple may have to rethink its options for the other three sites.
“We need to seek out members’ decision on whether it makes sense to invest more money and effort into building meditation and retreat centres when the natural environment we relied upon is being destroyed by the proposed wind farms,” she says.
Ms Dawson says Peterborough Economic Development is working with the City of Kawartha Lakes to prepare for any opportunities that could arise out of the development of the temple. It’s not a lobbying agency, so it won’t play any role in fighting the wind farms.
“At the end of the day, there’s things going on beyond us,” she says.
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