There were no placards or protestors outside the Pontypool community centre, but plenty of people inside as the Environmental Review Tribunal hearing of the appeal of the Sumac Ridge wind turbine project got underway on Monday (Nov. 17).
Wind energy company wpd Canada received provincial approval last December for the Sumac Ridge project, the first of three proposed wind turbine farms in the area.
Sumac Ridge will have five mega-turbines at the site on Ballyduff Road on the Oak Ridges Moraine.
Opposition was fierce from area residents after the project was approved (in spite of objections from City of Kawartha Lakes council). Three groups appealed the decision on Dec. 23. They include Manvers Wind Concerns (MWC), a group of local residents and opponents, Cransley Home Farm Ltd. and the Cham Shan Temple.
The Cham Shan Temple is a multi-million dollar initiative of the Buddhist Association of Canada, which will mirror the four great Temples in China. It is designed as a place for spiritual meditation and the Buddhists say wind turbines in the area will have an impact on those making pilgrimages to the Temple.
On Monday, chairs Heather Gibbs and Marcia Valiente heard introductions from the appellants’ lawyer, Eric Gillespie. Also present were the director for the Ministry of the Environment and John Richardson, lead counsel for wpd Canada.
The hearing takes a structured format; some people are permitted to speak as participants, others designated as presenters and still others are qualified as witnesses. All of those speaking during the hearing were cleared under their specific designations during preliminary hearings earlier this year.
Opening statements began Monday, in which those who will appear during the process outlined what they will focus on when they are called.
The Chair advised provincial law requires the appellants must show that the wind energy project will “cause certain harms.” The Tribunal itself is an independent body, she noted.
Mr. Gillespie said there are three primary issues on which the appeal will focus;
– the concerns of First Nations, both Curve Lake and Hiawatha, which he said the appellants fully support;
– the “serious and irreversible harm to plants, animals and the environment, particularly the Oak Ridges Moraine (the thrust of the appeal from MWC and Cransley Home Farm) and;
– the Cham Shan Temple, whose main concern is the impact of the turbines’ “audible noise” on human health; specifically the Buddhists right to have a quiet and peaceful atmosphere for their pilgrimages.
Mr. Gillespie noted the Cham Shan Temple is the only one of its kind in the world outside of China. He said that the Province requires setback limits for wind turbines so they do not disturb people’s sleep.
If they are set back so people can sleep, he said, they should also not interfere with people’s right to meditate and pray.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Richardson said wpd Canada complied with all of the rules and regulations required by the Province when they applied to build the wind farm. He said “all the prescribed steps were completed” and there was no evidence the project would cause any harm to people, animals, plants or the environment.
“The evidence will demonstrate those harms don’t exist,” he said. “Allegations of possible harm won’t be substantiated.”
He also questioned Mr. Gillespie’s comments regarding the Temple, alleging the appellants’ lawyer had previously said there was no health issue. Mr. Richardson said there is no ambiguity in the legal term ‘natural environment’; that it specifcally refers to land, air and water, not the “tranquil environment” the Buddhists desire.
The Tribunal also heard from Ward 16 Coun. Heather Stauble, newly re-elected on Oct. 27 and who has spent much of her time championing the opponents of the large wind farms. She outlined how many meetings she has attended with the Province, wpd Canada and City of Kawartha Lakes staff, the thousands of emails she has received. Her main contention is there was a lot of information the Province never received before approving the project, including the lack of a hydrogeological study.
Coun. Stauble, noting how long envirnomental groups have worked to protect the Moraine, and outlining its significance to southern Ontario, said that if wind turbines go up, what is unique to the Moraine “will be gone forever.”
She also pointed out the City had serious concerns about the noise from such large turbines, saying “there was concern wpd did not fully understand where they were locating the project…the reasons for protecting the Oak Ridges Moraine are the same as they were in 2001.”
Cindy Sutch, who heads Save the Oak Ridges Moraine (STORM) said the group has been working since 1989 to preserve the Moraine, and noted how many people who live on or near it have “sacrificed” to preserve it. She said farmers have not been permitted to subdivide their lands to allow a family member to build a home, nor could one man build “a 10 by 10 shed to put his tools in” because it is not allowed.
“They sacrificed to protect the Moraine,” she said, adding it was not fair to let wind energy companies bring in fill and cut down trees.
Both Coun. Stauble and Ms Sutch said the opposition was not to small wind turbines or renewable energy, but “mega-turbines and wind projects covering hundreds of acres.”
Brent Whetung of Curve Lake First Nation said the Supreme Court of Canada has decreed that all levels of government must confer with First Nations peoples in land uses, and said that under government treaty, he is permitted to hunt, fish and take part in falconry. He said the appeal “might be a first on First Nations’ territory” and was “happy to be a part of it.”
Melissa Dokis of Hiawatha First Nation advised she fully supported Mr. Whetung’s position. There will be a day of the hearing that will take place at Curve Lake when the chief and band council determine which day works for all parties.
City of Kawartha Lakes director of development services Ron Taylor also spoke, and later told This Week that wpd Canada plans to put two of the five turbines on an unopened section of Wild Turkey Road to access the wind farm. He said using that road would mean the company would have to build a road capable of handling the heavy trucks bringing in wind turbine components. (Council has opposed that and did not approve opening the section of the road.) Mr. Taylor said if the road was rebuilt, it would then become the City’s responsibility to maintain at taxpayers’ expense, which council adamantly opposed.
“The City is not obligated to open or reconstruct Wild Turkey Road,” he said, adding wpd was “advised several times” but have not presented an alternative plan.
The appellants hope to present all of their witnesses this week and the hearing will resume again in December for the Province and wpd Canada to preent their cases.
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