Some used humour, others were brought to tears.
But the message from three First Nation Chiefs, various Mayors and federal and provincial leaders was the same: the proposed wind farm for the Mattawa region will be fought to the end.
Area residents packed the second floor of Mattawa’s Mike Rodden Arena on Friday night to listen to the opposition leaders rally against Innergex Renewable Energy Inc.’s tentative plans for a 150-megawatt wind farm in the area.
Their respective arguments ranged from the Algonquin Land Claim agreement, the environmental toll, and the true economic impact, among many others.
The Nodinosi Project, as Innergex and the partnering Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation have named it, calls for anywhere between 50-60 wind turbines on crown land just north of the Mattawa River in the Olrig and Mattawan Townships.
Some of the turbines in the project are expected to tower at 80-120 metres in height, which would be some of the largest of their kind.
The Mattawa/North Bay Algonquin First Nation, Antoine First Nation and Shabot Obaadjiwan leaders took precedence on the evening, defending their land that they feel the government is destroying and exploiting.
“If you want to develop our lands, our consent is required,” said Dave Joanisse, Chief for the Antoine First Nation. “Going to court and fighting for title is one way the that the Algonquin Communities have to settle long outstanding Claims.
“The other way is for the government to conduct negotiation in good faith with Aboriginal Communities,” he continued.
Innergex has promoted the project in partnership with the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation, who are situated over 200 kilometres from the proposed project site, near Pembroke, Ont.
But Joanisse continued to send his strong message to the fellow First Nation, whose integrity he questioned for entering the agreement and potentially jeopardizing the Algonquin Land Claim agreement-in-principle in the first public consultation.
“I am truly disappointed in the leadership from Pikwàkanagàn,” he said on Friday. “This unilateral decision made by them truly undermines the process we have all supported for the last 20 years.”
Nipissing Member of Provincial Parliament Vic Fedeli encapsulated the crowd with his arguments against the province’s wind power plans and, more specifically, the Mattawa proposal.
Fedeli, who was Ontario’s energy critic for two years, argued that the province’s Green Energy Act has been ideologically driven and lacks substance, which he said the new Innergex proposal is a prime example of.
He said the provincial government has spent $50 billion on green energy and paid $2.6 billion to Quebec and the United States between 2006 and 2013 to take the surplus energy made exclusively from wind.
“We got into this thing in Ontario by a mistake, forced into it by ideology, it caused your hydro rates to triple and cost 300,000 manufacturing jobs in Ontario so far,” Fedeli said.
But François Morin, senior advisor of public affairs for the Quebec-based company, said that isn’t the whole story.
“In the energy sector, you have to plan 20-25 years ahead,” he added. “Maybe you have a surplus of energy now, but in a few years it could be very different. In Ontario, the projection calls for a deficit of energy in the next 3-4 years.”
The intermittent power source, Fedeli argued, is being forced on Ontario after the province stripped municipalities the ability to object to the farms and that they continue to unfairly incentivize their development to the private companies.
The crowd also heard from North Bay Mayor Al McDonald, Nipissing-Timiskaming MP Jay Aspin, John Kelsall of the Lake Talon Conservation Authority, and other area mayors.
Many in attendance said the standing room-only session was the biggest turnout they have ever seen for an event like that in Mattawa.
Mattawa Mayor Dean Backer brought the evening to a climax, rallying the crowd to their feet in his brief but powerful statements.
“Innergex, we mean no ill will, but you’re coming into our back yard and it’s not going to happen in our back yard, I can promise you that,” he said to a standing ovation. “Our municipality is 100 per cent against this stupid proposal.”
And it appears that, for now, those strong messages have gotten through to Innergex.
Morin said the responsibility is now on Innergex to redevelop the proposal around the concerns they have heard.
“Social acceptability is a cornerstone of our development and a vital part of any project, so for now, I can tell you, no we don’t have a project because we don’t have that social acceptability,” he said after the meeting.
“For now, the responsibility is with us to find a way to make a better project,” he concluded.
Morin said the company will now go back to the drawing board and redevelop new ideas for the Nodinosi Project.
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