MATTAWA – It was a message loud enough and clear enough that the proponent of a controversial wind energy project couldn’t ignore or deny on Friday night at a community meeting in Mattawa.
François Morin, senior development manager with Innergex, said the company needs to re-examine its proposal to install 50 to 60 wind turbines north of the Mattawa River and address community concerns the $350 million investment is raising.
“If we can’t gather enough support that will be the end of the project,” said Morin. “But I am going to continue to speak with the people here and listen and hopefully work with them.”
Morin made the comments at the end of a two-hour session at the Mike Rodden Arena’s community hall where about 200 people listened to nearly a dozen speakers argue against the proposed installation in Olrig and Mattawan townships.
“When it comes to the quality of life in our township I can ensure all here tonight that we the council of the municipality of Mattawan Township and our residents are neither complacent nor gullible,” Mattawan mayor Peter Murphy said. “We will oppose this project at every opportunity and every forum.”
The meeting was organized by Chief Clifford Batien of the Mattawa/North Bay Algonquin First Nation and Chief Dave Joanisse of Antoine First Nation and attracted MP Jay Aspin and MPP Vic Fedeli along with a host of local mayors.
Both chiefs spoke about the ongoing treaty negotiations between the Algonquin First Nations and the provincial and federal governments and the key role Crown land is playing in the dealings. The proposed wind turbines would rest solely on Crown land.
“The land being exploited by Innergex and the aboriginal territory is unextinguished titled lands,” said Chief Joanisse, referencing a Supreme Court of Canada ruling. “…This decision places greater burdens on provincial governments to consult with First Nations about development on their lands. It means if you are a hydro transmission company, a pipeliner or a wind turbine company, the landscape has changed.”
Fedeli used his time to discuss what he feels are failures of the provincial Green Energy Act, including lack of local consultations, feeding the electricity grid with unwanted expensive current and providing little for local communities that find themselves home to the structures. Fedeli said the average property taxes for a $5 million turbine tower is about $1,400 per year. He also said the premium paid for wind and other “renewable energy” sources is driving the electricity rates high enough to hurt the province’s economic competiveness.
“(The Green Energy Act) has cost 500,000 manufacturing jobs in Ontario so far and that is why I will stand by you every step of the way,” Fedeli said.
Aspin was equally clear in his position. “I’m going to say right off the bat that I oppose this project.”
Even North Bay’s mayor Al McDonald made the trip to Mattawa on March 6, in a show of solidarity. McDonald has recently been speaking out about an early stage proposal north of his city.
“Ladies and gentlemen you know who your friends are when they stand behind you when you’re facing a challenge. I’m here tonight to stand with my friends,” McDonald said.
He added that he brought with him a resolution from the North Bay and District Chamber of Commerce board opposing the wind turbines.
John Kelsall of the Lake Talon Conservation Association talked about the importance of the Mattawa River’s heritage designation, which helps attracts 2,500 canoeists each year to experience the historic route.
“This waterway has been used by our First Nation friends for the past 6,000 years and nobody can take that away,” said Kelsall. He later added, “Can you imagine people in a tent? ‘Whoam. Whoam. Whoam.’ I don’t think so.”
Mattawa mayor Dean Backer drew the biggest response of the evening, pulling the crowd to their feet, saying, “We will blockade anything possible. Mr. Innergex, you are coming into our backyard and we will not allow you.”
Morin from Innergex didn’t necessarily disagree with the criticisms raised at the meeting, though he did not address the crowd or the speakers. In an interview he accepted the company perhaps should have done more to consult with local First Nations and not just the Algonquin First Nation from the Pembroke area. The partnership with the Pembroke First Nation gives the application to the provincial government priority over projects without First Nations on board, but does not give it a fast track in the consultation or other processes.
He also thought the Green Energy Act has room for improvement.
“I agree with many criticisms of the Green Energy Act that were said tonight. I think it was a mistake to exclude the municipalities, the local people, from the consultation process… I think it is the duty of the proponent and the promoters to be better than the law,” Morin said.
Asked for specifics on the Innergex Mattawa wind proposal, Morin said, “I wouldn’t say the project is on hold but our energy and our focus is on projects elsewhere.”
Even without that message being directly relayed on Friday night, the crowd sensed they had momentum on their side, which Papineau-Cameron Township mayor Bob Corriveau urged caution over, telling residents to be vigilant.
“I want you to think about 20 years from now and you are walking with your grandchild and they look up and see the wind turbines and they say, ‘Papa, how did that happen?’ What will you answer? We have to oppose these wind turbines.”
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