Four families fighting industrial wind energy projects in Kincardine and nearby municipalities have been offered a glimmer of hope.
The Ontario Supreme Court of Justice ruled Friday to reduce court costs substantially for a case against the three industrial wind developments. Kevin McKee, president of Huron-Kinloss Against Lakeside Turbines (HALT), said thus far, the court system has been very fair to the appellants in regards to those costs.
Last fall, the families launched the appeal to stop the Armow Wind, K2 Wind and St. Columban projects after losing Environmental Review Tribunal appeals earlier this year. Ken and Sharon Kroeplin live within the boundaries of the Armow Wind project in Kincardine, Shawn and Trish Drennan live within the K2 Wind project near Lucknow and Scotty and Jennifer Dixon and Thomas and Catherine Ryan live within the boundaries of the St. Columban project in Huron East.
Assisted by HALT, the families hired Toronto law firm Falconer LLP and are challenging court decisions not to halt the projects on constitutional grounds, arguing that there is too much of an onus on residents to prove that the projects will harm their health. When the Divisional Court challenge failed in December, the three wind companies sought compensation for legal fees.
McKee said it is no surprise that the court would rule for the appellants to cover the court costs, as that is consistent with court procedures in Canada. The Drennans were initially required to pay $200,000, the Dixons and Ryans $170,000 and the Kroeplins $17,500. However, last week the court ruled to reduce those fees to $25,000 for each the Drennans and the Dixons and Ryans. The figure remains the same for the Kroeplins. In making its decision, the judge noted that the appeals had a strong public interest component and the costs awarded to the wind energy companies should reflect that.
Despite losing their cases at Environmental Tribunal Review hearings to reverse the province’s Renewable Energy Approvals of the wind projects, the families and HALT are pursuing further action at the Ontario Court of Appeal level. McKee said the group expects to learn if its case will be heard in the next two to three months.
He noted there have been a lot public comments made that the case is a frivolous one, but HALT and the families believe they have a good case.
“Even though the judges upheld the (court) decision they obviously saw the value in this case and lowered the costs,” McKee said.
It was not the first time the court has sided with the group on court costs. Following court proceedings initiated by the Drennans against K2 Wind and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, heard by the Superior Court of Justice in Goderich in March 2013, the court did not require the couple to pick up the $170,000 in court costs incurred by K2 Wind.
During those same proceedings, the chief justice on the case ruled that the Environmental Review Tribunal could hear appeals based on Charter violation claims and it was on that basis that the families proceeded. Not allowing individuals to challenge decisions on the grounds that they believe their Charter rights have been violated creates a dangerous precedent, McKee noted. He is hopeful the Ontario Court of Appeals will allow the argument.
If the appeal is granted, HALT and the families expect to return to court in November or December of this year.
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