ALGOMA – The Goulais Wind Farm north of Sault Ste. Marie, is in its final stages of construction with towers and turbine blades being hoisted into place with huge cranes.
Although weather especially winds and cold has impacted this phase of the project, it will be operational this spring.
Not everyone is blown away.
Goulais River resident Gillan Richards believes the province has misinformed the public by providing them with biased information in its move to generate energy from the wind as a renewable and green resource.
“When the Ontario government decided they were going to get into big wind as a green alternative to dirty coal, which isn’t all that dirty after all, they put out these messages that have not been fair,” she said in a recent interview at her home.
If the people of Ontario decide they can endorse and live with wind farms, then that’s a democratic society at work, “but the people have never been given that opportunity, they’ve been given a biased picture of it,” said Richards.
Richards is a retired high school English teacher. As an educator she believes “it is important to present both sides of the case and let the public talk about it and decide what they can live with.”
When speaking about Northern Ontario as opposed to the south, she wonders why they would want turbines anymore than we would. Is it because the region up here is less populated?
The huge geographical region between Sault Ste. Marie and Wawa, excluding Prince Township, is unorganized and without local governance.
“The difficulty here for us; I can’t think of any area, any county in Southern Ontario which is unorganized,” Richards said. “Between here and Wawa there is no organized governance.”
Unorganized townships have Local Services Boards (LSB) and Local Roads Boards (LRB), which have no allowance in the statute to become involved in electricity or its transmission.
Board members are elected by the community and have specific responsibilities, such as volunteer fire services, roads and recreation.
“But there’s nothing in the law that allows these groups to act in lieu of a municipal council,” said Richards.
Richards had attended several meetings about whether or not Goulais residents wanted recycling pick up to continue
“It became evident and they were very outspoken that they did not want to become an organized township,” Richards said. “This is something they held very dear, this is why they live here.”
She agrees with this choice fully because “we are living as close as we can to the wilderness that is left and that is what we want.”
What residents want and what they end up with could well be beyond their control if the Catherine Wynne’s government continues to push on with big wind as a renewable and sustainable resource for energy production.
Wynne said that she would allow a community council to declare itself an unwilling host to industrial wind turbine (IWT) development, “she would presumably not develop turbines in that area,” said Richards.
If a municipality declares itself an unwilling host, there is a mechanism to do that through governance, but that mechanism does not exist in the unorganized areas between Wawa and the Sault.
“What we value is the wilderness here, it’s not pristine as it’s already been mined and logged. We want to keep what’s left not just for the locals but for everyone,” she said.
The tourism industry is vital in Algoma and along the route between the Sault and Thunder Bay as many well established businesses promote the “naturally gifted” and “it’s that spectacular” beauty of the area.
“But you put industrial turbines that go 500 feet in the air and you don’t really think you are in the wilderness anymore, it’s really visually jarring,” said Richards.
“Tourism is critically important. The Sault is the gateway to the Lake Superior route and one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world.”
Businesses and organizations are promoting ecotourism as a viable, year-round sustainable industry.
“All that carries absolutely zip weight with the Ontario government and the Environmental Review Tribunal … It is simply not allowable as a part of argument even though Premiere (Kathleen) Wynne says you can object,” Richards said.
“We are unorganized here in this region and can’t do that. It leaves us disadvantaged.”
Whether it be wind, hydro, solar, coal or nuclear, the consequences must be weighed, researched and followed. All energy sources have downsides, but many are terrified of nuclear, even though it has become safer, experts say.
“But they have to realize that without nuclear power backing up renewables in Ontario, there wouldn’t be sufficient power to meet consumer needs,” said Richards, who estimates almost 60% of the province’s power is produced by nuclear.
The planet does not have an infinite supply of rare metals to supply those commodities necessary for the production of solar panels. Eventually these metals will be gone because they aren’t renewable.
“The point I was trying to make is that there are actual, and potential, consequences to the environment no matter what present means of power generation are used as some resources on planet Earth are limited,” said Richards.
Educating consumers about energy conservation and financing research into power generation production which are not damaging to environment, humans and wildlife, is tantamount, she said.
“In my opinion, the Ontario government did not do its homework. In trying to correct an economic problem, it has in fact created a greater problem,’ Richards added.
Then there’s the issue of migratory creatures, such as insects, birds and bats. That is irreversible harm.
There is no migrant bird observatory between St. Joseph Island and Wawa, “or maybe Manitoulin Island, but there is evidence coming from Whitefish Point in Michigan,” said Richards.
The Whitefish Bird Observatory in Chippewa County, Mich., is a non-profit affiliate education and research facility of the Michigan Audubon Society, established in 1978.
Whitefish Point is a narrow peninsula that goes several kilometres into Lake Superior. Canada is about 27 kilometres away, but according to their website “the geography of this location makes it a natural funnel for migration.
Birds of all kinds migrate between their northern breeding grounds in Canada and their warmer wintering grounds to the south.
“It was considered out of scope and not acceptable to the tribunal,” said Richards. “Once you kill X number of birds per turbine, they’re dead and they’re gone forever,” she said, adding she believes is irreversible harm. You will never remove 500 tons of rebar and concrete per turbine and that is irreversible harm as far as I know, I don’t know how you would reverse that because even if nature in itself is destructive, we as humans do not have the right to damage the life of other creatures.”
Causing irreversible harm is unethical, she said. Soon, there will be an accumulated effect of 126 wind turbines between Prince 1 and 2, and another 11 at Goulais Wind Farm. Add another 26 at Bow Lake in Montreal River.
Richards said in her closing statement as a participant for the Environmental Review Tribunal hearing in December 2013, that a map published by consulting firm Stantec indicates proposed wind projects for Northland Lake, Heyden, Island, Ranger Lakes and Stokely Creek.
Should another development come to fruition, the Lucinda Project on the north side of Goulais Bay, it would “literally surround the residents with turbines.”
“You come to one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world and it has turbines along the coast and in the water,” Richards said.
“And if you think that’s a dead issue, think again.”
Having attended all open houses and information sessions, she said there was an overwhelming rejection of industrial wind in Algoma.
Each presenter and participant in the ERT hearing who appeared on behalf of appellant Doug Moseley, “emphasized helplessness, hopelessness, frustration and despair, associated with the building of IWT in the iconic wilderness of the Algoma District.”
Joanie and Gary McGuffin, well known adventure/photojournalists, work tirelessly to develop Algoma as a sustainable year-round ecotourism economy, argued turbines would seriously mar the landscape.
Gary has taken aerial photos of the developments “and it is visual reminder to the people that you may think not much is happening, until you see the infrastructure, roads being built.”
In the Environment Review Tribunal hearing, Karen Streich, an economist who has experience in economic development in First Nations and rural areas, said, “as long-time residents of Goulais River, both she and her husband feel their rights have been violated.”
She said the Ontario government is not heeding the plea of local people to determine their own economic destiny in a lifestyle in keeping with the rural north, and no real objective long-term assessment has been done locally.
For 32 years, Richards taught English at the former Bawating C&VS, a state-of-the-art facility closed and demolished several years ago to make way for Superior Heights C&VS.
She also worked as co-ordinator of secondary programs with Algoma District School Board.
“It was my responsibility to assist teachers to prepare their students for the Grade 10 reading and writing test,” Richards said, adding she realized that 70% of a student’s performance was not based on his or her ability to read and write but an ability to think.
“My point is that where you live can be an important factor in conditioning how you think,’ Richards said.
Many of her students came from the Heyden, Searchmont and Goulais areas.
“What I noticed over the years, and I was acutely aware that students who came from Bawating’s feeder schools, were sensitive to the features of the wilderness world they inhabited.”
They tended to be physically active, hardy, resourceful and practical.
It has been documented that proximity to IWTs can cause sleep disruption.
The issues raised in Moseley’s notice of appeal of the GWF, “are the potential health effects from exposure to infrasound, low-frequency noise, audible noise, visual impact and/or electromagnetic fields.”
“As an educator I have noted that any one, or a combination, of these factors may interfere with memory and concentration to the point where someone says, ‘I can’t hear myself think,’ ” Richards said.
Richards demonstrated the impact noise has on adolescent learners and questioned the effect of turbine noise and visual impact on “teenaged learners to concentrate, memorize and sleep.”
On April 17, 2014, ERT dismissed Moseley’s appeal of the approval of the Goulais Wind Farm. Richards said that everyone who put themselves forward as presenters, participants and expert witnesses throughout the appeal process, are not against change, but are rather looking at the fact that decisions have consequences.
Nothing is free, everything has a trade off, “and the imposition of IWTs is not a solution to the Ontario government’s perceived need to procure a greener energy and it is certainly not a solution which has its regional needs and agendas.” Richards said she believes the government’s need for green is not a solution to be imposed “on rural Ontario who’s needs and agendas have been ignored and trampled on by the Ontario government.”
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