(MANVERS TWP) Ward 16 Councillor Heather Stauble says she’s “in awe of the amount and the quality of the work” that went into a legal challenge to the building of industrial wind turbines in Manvers Township.
As those fighting wpd Canada’s Sumac Ridge wind energy project prepare for a decision next month, Coun. Stauble had nothing but praise for those who put “a tremendous amount of time, energy and skill” volunteering to help the case.
In December 2013, wind energy company wpd Canada was granted Ministry of Environment (MOE) approval to build Sumac Ridge wind energy farm, which involves building five 500-metre high industrial wind turbines near Pontypool. Two of those would be on the Oak Ridges Moraine.
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Days after the approval was granted, a group of concerned residents, Manvers Wind Concerns, Cransley Home Farm Ltd. and the Buddhist Association of Canada’s Cham Shan Temple launched an appeal.
All parties allege industrial wind turbines will have a significant, negative impact on the environment, including water, plant and animal life. The Buddhists, whose investment in building four Temples to mirror those in China is estimated at $100 million, maintain wind turbines will destroy the peace and tranquility necessary for a spiritual pilgrimage.
The Environmental Review Tribunal, an independent body heard the appeal over several weeks in Pontypool last month, with lawyers representing the Province (which elected to call no witnesses) and wpd Canada. The appellants retained environmental lawyer Eric Gillespie.
Most of 2014 was spent categorizing witnesses and qualifying who could take part in the hearing. When it concluded in December, all sides were expected to deliver written submissions to the Tribunal by Wednesday (Jan. 7).
On Friday (Jan. 9) Coun. Stauble told This Week Mr. Gillespie and his assistants worked over the entire Christmas holiday to deliver a 230-page written submission.
“I expect they are either sleeping or hiding now,” she said. “It was an incredible amount of work.”
She added that without Mr. Gillespie’s expertise in environmental law (he is a veteran of Tribunal hearings) and the support of the volunteers who helped with the case, the legal costs would have been “staggering.” She estimated the costs could approach $1 million.
But, Coun. Stauble said, while she knew from the outset there would be support, the number and skills of volunteers who donated “time, skill and energy” to help Mr. Gillespie astonished her.
“An enormous amount of time, energy and skill went into this. They did everything – research, providing facts. Eric had an army behind him. These are people who are highly-skilled; the information they provided was critical to putting this case together. And, they were all unpaid.
“I’m in awe of them.”
Coun. Stauble said the MOE and wpd Canada have until Jan. 16 to respond to the appellants’ submission, after which the appellants can rebut that response. Final oral arguments will be heard in Pontypool a few days later.
It is hoped, she said, the Tribunal will render a decision sometime in February.
While she could not speak to what would happen if the appellants lose the appeal, she said the next step will depend on the decision the Tribunal delivers and what it says. Either side could appeal that decision and seek a judicial review. But, she confirmed those opposing wind turbines on the Moraine are not going to give up easily.
A key component of the case, she noted, is there are laws in place to protect the Moraine, including one that prohibits building on it. The question is how can the Province circumvent its own laws by granting approval to build wind turbines on the Moraine.
Coun. Stauble said the City of Kawartha Lakes staff was “extremely supportive” in providing the information they did to support the case, especially given that the Moraine is the source of drinking water for about 250,000 residents in southern Ontario. The City has long taken the position that industrial wind turbines are not welcome anywhere in the municipality; previous councils have blocked applications, only to find the Province granting approvals in spite of municipal opposition.
But, Coun. Stauble remains hopeful, noting the Tribunal must consider the “serious and irreparable harm” that could be done to the Moraine if Sumac Ridge goes forward.
In the meantime, she says the battle Manvers Township put up speaks volumes.
“I don’t think wpd and the Province counted on running into what they ran into in Manvers Township,” she said. “I’m extremely proud of my community.”
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