All Amaranth resident Ted Whitworth wants for Christmas is written confirmation that the transformer station located near his home isn’t hazardous to his health.
Unfortunately for Whitworth, he won’t find that memo he covets from the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) underneath his tree this year.
“The best thing would be to fix the whole thing,” Whitworth exclaimed, noting in absence of that he needs the letter from the MOE so he can move on and perhaps consider selling his rural property.
“Let them assume the liability, if there is any. If they’re right, then why won’t they provide it?” he asked. “Why do we have to assume the liability of selling it … when the ministry says there is no problem?”
Whitworth has submitted complaints to the MOE ever since the transformer station associated with what is now TransAlta’s Melancthon wind facility was brought online in 2006.
While he lives about two kilometres away from the nearest turbine, the transformer is located about 490 metres from his home and 150 metres away from his beef and dairy farm’s pasture field.
As MOE spokesperson Kate Jordan explained, the province has taken action. She said the MOE did require TransAlta replace the original transformer with two quieter ones several years ago, as well as construct noise walls and berms surrounding them.
“We have taken the property owners noise complaints very seriously,” Jordan said in an email. “We have required TransAlta to take a number of actions to reduce noise from the site.”
After the original transformer was replaced, Whitworth claims his family’s health worsened. Citing headaches and a lack of sleep as some symptoms, Whitworth alleges his beef cattle and diary goats have been affected as well.
Whitworth says his goats’ milk production has decreased since the transformers came in, plus his livestock have been fraught with breeding complications.
Whitworth has discussed the issue with MOE officials on numerous occasions in the last several years, whether that was face-to-face, over the telephone or via email, but to no avail.
“It is the hum, the vibrations in our house. At times, you’re inners shake,” argued Whitworth, who retired early from his post with the Farm Safety Association in 2010 because he couldn’t stay awake while driving.
“Our livestock and dogs do the same thing. You can feel them shaking at times,” he added. “There is something causing the shake. It has been far worse since the two transformers fired up.”
When contacted by The Banner, TransAlta spokesperson Leanne Yohemas said her company is confident the transformer station is in compliance with all requirements.
“If any resident or landowner has questions or concerns we’d welcome the opportunity to address them, based on extensive work that’s been done in the scientific and medical communities about the use and impact of wind energy,” she responded in an email.
Whitworth said no group or organization has approached him with an offer to buy his property. After examining his complaints, the MOE closed its investigation into the matter in May of 2013.
“All testing we have done show our noise standards are being met,” Jordan said, noting transformers, which produce tonal noise, must meet a noise limit of 35 decibles.
“Ontario has one of the strictest sound criteria in North America,” she added. “The ministry’s noise standards are based on the best available science and developed to protect human health and the environment.”
Although unhappy the MOE closed his file, Whitworth is now requesting written confirmation that the transformer station isn’t impacting human or animal health.
As Whitworth waits for that memo, Amaranth council has since backed his cause. Council recently demanded the MOE forward that written confirmation to both Whitworth and the township.
“If you closed the file because there are no health effects here, put it in writing,” said Mayor Don MacIver. “If I go to sell my farm, I want to know that there are no health effects. The reverse is, if there are health effects, why aren’t you doing something?”
MacIver feels Whitworth has been left hanging. If the transformer station isn’t causing any health complications, he thinks the MOE should fulfill his constituent’s request.
“Give these people the opportunity to have a letter that says there are no health effects, so it isn’t devaluing their property,” MacIver demanded. “I’d hope that the ministry would go back, review their files and responsibility on this issue and make the right decision.”
It isn’t known whether that letter will be forthcoming. When asked why the MOE has declined to act on Whitworth’s request, Jordan said the ministry already shared the results of its investigation with nearby residents.
“We’ve sat down with residents to explain the testing results and to detail how the ministry’s noise standards work,” she explained. “The transformer is in compliance with our standards.”
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