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Native trail may halt turbine start up; Wind group calls on ombud to investigate

CAISTOR CENTRE – Calling it his last-ditch effort, Neil Switzer has written the Ontario Ombudsman over the Ontario government’s alleged negligence in approving a local wind turbine project.

The chairman of local citizen’s group West Lincoln Glanbrook Wind Action Group has filed a complaint with Ontario’s government watchdog in regards to what he calls a major oversight – one which he in fact pointed out in a submission under the public comment portion of the government’s renewable energy approvals process for green energy dated Jan. 28, 2013. In his comments, Switzer stated that the project should not be approved because the heritage assessment undertaken by project proponents HAF Wind Energy failed to identify “one of Ontario’s oldest and almost forgotten” native trails.

Switzer said the turbines were built within 400 metres of a thousand-year-old trail that stretches from The Forty (Grimsby) to The Grand. Switzer said the trail is referenced in many historic maps including a Thomas Ridout Surveyor General Map of Caistor Township from 1811. He said the trail played an important role in the War of 1812 and was one of three such trails to connect the Grand River to Lake Ontario. The trail also has ties to early native settlers as well as the many United Empire Loyalists who came to the area following the American Revolution, he said.

Switzer said the government has a duty to look into the trail to assess its cultural significance.

“It should be investigated,” said Switzer, whose own property includes portions of the trail. “It cannot just be totally ignored without a proper assessment done or else it is in contravention of a provincial act.”

Switzer said in failing to pass on his submission to the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport the Ministry of Energy was negligent.

According to the MTCS, any new cultural heritage information that comes to light after the ministry has already issued a final comment letter on a heritage assessment report should be brought to the attention of the applicant. The applicant should then discuss this new information with their heritage or archaeological consultant to determine if it will require investigation through additional assessment or reporting. The ministry’s role is to review archaeological and heritage reports.

According to the ministry, trails and corridors with significant cultural value can be considered for heritage protection however it must meet criteria stipulated in the heritage act. Ministry spokesperson Paul Gerard said a heritage assessment report submitted by the proponent in 2011 made no mention of the trail. It did, however, note a rich agricultural history dating back to the early 1800s, but said the potential heritage value was low.

“Since there are no direct impacts and minimal indirect impacts of the (5) proposed wind turbines sites, there are no mitigation recommendations in regard to heritage resources,” the report states. Switzer said if the consultant had looked a little further, they should have noted the trail, which is within 400-metres of the turbines. Switzer said the incomplete status of the assessment should suspend the proponent’s approval – which is already delayed due to four of the five wind turbines having been constructed in contravention of property line setbacks stipulated in the Green Energy Act.

While the ministry has said the project cannot go into operation until the property line matter is resolved, it has allowed the proponents to amend their application. Amendments are allowed, and do occur, under the ministry’s regulations. Regulations also allow for turbines to built closer than the minimum property line setback distance (height of the turbine from base to hub) provided a property assessment is done to ensure there are no surrounding land use concerns.

Proponents HAF Wind Energy Inc. – jointly owned by Vineland Power Inc. and Rankin Wind Energy – have submitted an amendment application.