In September local residents undertook the mammoth task of proving to a tribunal that wind turbines are impacting their health and the environment.
Further toughening the task was the fact they were only able to argue on the amended application to the HAF Wind Energy Project – which was filed in February after residents discovered four of the five industrial wind turbines were built closer to property lines than regulations stipulate without the required reports or agreements. Anne Fairfield and partner Ed Engel, who live on Sixteen Road and in her words are “surrounded by the project”, filed an appeal to the original renewable energy approval shortly after it was granted in June 2013. That appeal was filed on the grounds the project will impact residents’ health, its impediment on rights granted to Canadians under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its impact on air traffic and water wells.
When they again appealed the Ministry of Environment’s approval of the amended application – which included the property line setback assessment required when turbines will be constructed closer than the hub height to the neighbouring property line, which in this case is 95 metres – the original appeal was deemed null and void. This meant at the tribunal, Fairfield and her team of witnesses could only argue how the inclusion of the property line setback assessment and removal of a post-construction raptor monitoring requirement will impact human or environmental health. The Charter issue was also included in the hearing. The Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) can only assess the merits that an undertaking will have on health – both human and environmental.
“Quite frankly, we didn’t expect to be here,” said Deb Murphy, co-chair of the West Lincoln Glanbrook Wind Action Group, who represented Fairfield in West Lincoln council chambers. “We expected that the Ministry of Environment would not approve the amendment. We were stunned when they did and once again, we are in a situation where we have to prove harm to health or harm to the environment.”
Murphy, who recently became a paralegal, said in her opening statement to adjudicators Heather Gibbs, ERT vice chair, and Justin Duncan, that by the end of the hearing they would “have no choice but to alter the decision” of the MOE and to order the turbines down.
Scott Stoll, who was representing proponent Vineland Power Inc., however, argued the appellants had no evidence to prove either change in the amendment will harm health.
“I’m quite sure the appellant will not be able to prove anything,” said Stoll in his opening statement, adding the appellant’s allegations are “wrong and offensive” to his client and to the ministry and concluded the appeal should be dismissed.
First to take the stand was Loretta Shields who argued the removal of the raptor monitoring will affect the health of local bird populations. Shields, who works for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, was clear from the start she is no expert on birds but belongs to a number of environmental and nature groups including the Niagara Peninsula Hawk Watch which every years monitors the populations of migrating hawks and other predatory birds. She said the renewable energy application submitted by the proponent failed to provide evidence that local experts were contacted for information on local nesting habitats and said there was no evidence of consultation with the Bird Breeding Atlas or field investigations. She said there are raptor populations – red tail hawks, American kestrels and northern harriers among them – in the area and that the turbines do pose a threat to.
Shields’ expertise on the matter was called into question a number of times under cross examination by Stoll and the ministry’s solicitor Andrew Weretelnyk.
At the heart of the residents’ case was the property line setback issue, which land owner Anne Meinen testified to. Meinen has farmed 136 acres on Twenty Road for 40 years. Her property is one five which the turbines impede setback distances on. She said one of the turbines impedes two property lines on her L-shaped property and she fears it will impact her ability to farm the land in the future. She
also fears a financial loss over property devaluation, increased insurance and lowered rental income from the tenant occupying the land. She said the situation has diminished her faith in the government.
“What other mistakes have been made?” she questioned. “This worries me a great deal.”
Meinen was referring to the earlier admittance by Vic Schroeter, the MOE’s renewable energy team supervisor who has signing power for all renewable energy projects, that the government took the proponents at their word.
“The MOE believed the turbines were 95 metres or greater from the property line,” he said, later adding “First and foremost we trust the information submitted to us by the applicant.”
In its original application Vineland Power Inc. stated all turbines were located 95 metres or greater from any property lines. As per ministry guidelines, applicants must either provide a property line assessment report which proves that siting the turbine in such a location will not result in any adverse impacts on neighbouring businesses, infrastructure, or land use activities, or an agreement with the land adjacent land owner. Neither were provided by Vineland Power in its original submission.
Meinen said when she applied for a land severance several years ago a neighbour had to remove an aluminum shed because it was too close to the property line. “In this case, it’s a 95-metre turbine,” she said, later adding “big companies and government shouldn’t be able to rule over ordinary citizens and taxpayers.”
In her testimonty Fairfield said she has equally lost faith in the process.
“Why it (the amendment) was not revoked instead is very troubling,” she said, noting the proponents were in direct contravention of the law. “Even more troubling is how they were able to submit a property line setback assessment two years later. I do not understand how a proponent can carry on by submitting more paper work.”
Fairfield said she has suffered from PTSD – pre-turbine stress disorder and now post-turbine stress disorder – for the past four year since learning wind turbines were poised to rise in rural Caistor Centre.
“Where is the medical evidence of that?” asked Stoll, to which Fairfield replied she had none and that she is her own doctor. “Are you recognized as a doctor anywhere?” he further questioned.
The ERT has six months to decide on the hearing. Should the ERT not side with Fairfield, she plans to take her fight to the next level – divisional court.