It has been just over one year since the Unifor (formerly Canadian Auto Workers’) wind turbine began fully operating in Saugeen Shores.
There is just as much fight today from Saugeen Turbine Operation Policy (STOP), an advocacy group who has been at the forefront of public backlash since news of the turbine made its way into the lake front community, as there was on March 26, 2013 when the blades started spinning.
“We are planning another open public town hall meeting to give our members and the public a summary and an up-to-date review of the events of the past year and where we see our plans going forward,” said Greg Schmalz, spokesperson for STOP in an interview Thursday morning.
Thursday also marked the day Port Elgin residents Charlie and Ann Kelly moved out of their Stickle Street home to a house on the other side of Port Elgin – away from the industrial wind turbine located at the Family Education Centre.
“[Affects from the turbine] started initially when the wind was from the west,” said Charlie Wednesday evening. “Throughout last summer, we went away a few times for days, a week, and felt fine once we got away from [the turbine],” he said. “We came back, and as soon as the turbine was running again in our direction, we were right back to where we were.”
The Kellys have a conditional offer on their house.
“We had to take action to look after ourselves, so we put our house on the market, and have bought a house on the other side of town where we feel we will be safe from this turbine and where we will be safe from any future turbines,” Charlie said. “We are fortunate that we are able to move to another location.”
“It happens literally, and unbelievably, all over the world; where industrial wind turbines are too close to people,” Schmalz said, alluding to his neighbour’s move. “Unfortunately, a year later, our worst fears were confirmed and are consistent with every other jurisdiction in the world – and that’s not an exaggeration when turbines are located close to people.
“You don’t have to go any further than Ripley or the Enbridge Project, which happened before ours, to meet those people who have experienced that,” he said.
So, with the Unifor wind turbine still running and with Saugeen Shores on the planning map for future turbine development, Schmalz said STOP will continue to make its opposition known.
“We just don’t want to see the harm perpetuated,” he stated.
What’s frustrating for Schmalz, STOP, “the town, and anyone in a fight against the government,” is that municipal power can be stripped when it comes to saying where a turbine can be placed.
What’s worse, Schmaltz continued, is how the layout of the Environmental Review Tribunal hearing makes “it impossible to create changes from a public standpoint.”
“You are relegated to using the official Ministry of the Environment complaint forms,” he explained.
Charlie Kelly also feels let down by the complaint system in place.
“Progress is very, very slow,” he said. “People are hurting and are continuing to hurt and I find, as time goes on, people quit complaining. They think ‘what’s the use, because nobody listens and nobody cares.'”
The Kellys were one of six families who provided victim impact statements to the municipality last August at which point the municipality passed a motion to ask for the shut down of the turbine which was ignored.
“You look at that level of effort from the municipality that was unanswered,” Schmalz recalled. “It speaks volumes to the process of imputing and having the ability to honestly be heard.
“So as residents, ironically, even though they’re suffering, there becomes a tremendous, societal peer pressure not to file complaints because of the apathy,” he continued. “Unfortunately, it empowers the government and the developer, in this case, Unifor to say there are no complaints. It really is a social injustice with a catch 22 associated with it.”
Schmalz credited the municipality however, for orchestrating a meeting last November, between its representatives, the Kellys and Jerry Dias, president of Unifor.
Not believing his turbine could cause harm to Saugeen Shores residents’ health, Schmalz said Dias’ response created an onus on STOP members to use their own money to prove him wrong.
The opposition group has since spent in excess of $75,000 on professional noise testing. It hired two separate noise testing teams to set up equipment in a home located near the turbine. STOP also set up its own equipment and independently tracked the noise for three weeks.
“Part of the government catch 22, is that they only regulate audible noise versus inaudible or low frequency,” Schmalz explained. “At lower levels and at longer periods of time there is an absolutely sinister effect on the human body, right to the cellular level. The scary part about what low frequency noise is; it’s a cumulative effect. The longer you are exposed, and more often, the faster and the harder the symptoms come on… it’s documented around the world.”
“Where initially it may have taken a day or two for the turbine to affect us, now half-an-hour will do it,” Charlie said.
What the Kellys, Schmalz and members of STOP would like to see now is more support from local government.
“Our real concern with the town that we are trying to express, and I love working with them, is what role it really plays in protecting its citizens,” Schmalz explained. “My personal belief is, if you know harm is out there, you should do everything in the scope of legality to try and protect those citizens,” he said.
That said he did sympathize with them.
“Imagine how Mike Smith and his entire council feel when they are literally helpless to effect the change and help their citizens,” he said. “It’s an atrocity to put elected officials in that position.”
And though councillors have admitted there is an issue, Schmalz would like to see them being more proactive – simply putting ads in the newspaper and on web sites, soliciting the public.”In this situation, with that government curtain on [the municipality’s] power, makes councillors very, very hesitant to go out and do anything because they increase an expectation in the community that they can provide a solution, when the government doesn’t allow them to provide a solution,” he continued.
Schmalz said he can understand the hesitancy, but thinks councillors should “take control of the situation; take ownership and stick up for its people.”
He did however reference councils’ recent recommendation approval to support a multi-municipal Noise Coalition which aims to create a bylaw to regulate noise levels over and above that of ambient noise levels.
He said only now, are people getting to such a position where they can take their opposition to a court level.
“In this past calendar year alone, there have been massive revelations and improvements and I think this year will be the watershed year that court decisions will come out,” Schmalz said. “If you take a look at the measurement of sound our group has done… we have shown ourselves that there’s issue with each one of those categories in relation to this turbine.
“We had to prove that to ourselves first and then we get to use that in concert with any other issues that we have with the approval of the (then) CAW turbine,” Schmalz continued.
He said STOP has a right to go to court, but before they do so, members will ask the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) if the certificate should have been issued. If the MOE disagrees, STOP will have it argued in court.
“At the end of the day, that’s what we are planning to do,” he said.
That said, going to court burdens citizens with a massive obligation of time and money to fight their own government.
In addition, STOP is also looking for ways to communicate with Unifor.
“We would like to believe now that Unifor is a much changed organization from the CAW in terms of the different types of unions that have joined together from across Canada,” Schmalz said.
“There’s a willingness and desire to speak with them because all we want to do is share our experiences of what we’re living through,” he said. “Ourselves and Unifor cannot change the government, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk and they shouldn’t listen when their actions are negatively affecting people in our town.”
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