Clearview Township and the Town of Collingwood have a new ally in their fight to get a wind turbine development blown off course.
County of Simcoe council voted Thursday to join the municipalities in their appeals of Fairview wind project, which proposes to build eight 137-metre wind turbines east of Stayner, near the Collingwood airport. The councils of the two lower-tier municipalities voted in favour of appealing the project to the Environment Review Tribune (ERT) at their most recent meetings. It was approved by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change Feb. 11, the day before a scheduled hearing between wpd Canada and the ministry on the project was to begin.
Collingwood Mayor Sandra Cooper called on the county to get behind her town and her neighbour.
“We just really need to get some teeth into this, and support from the county would very much be appreciated,” she said. “In my view, I think an appeal from the county would be very beneficial… and give a lot of clout as well.”
Clearview Township Deputy-Mayor Barry Burton thinks the case against the turbines is already strong, but solidifies with the support from the county as a third appellant.
“It gives us a little more strength,” Burton said. “The support of the county (highlights) the safety issue of these towers being in and around the airport.”
Simply writing a letter in support of the municipalities wasn’t going to be sufficient in Burton’s eyes; the county needed to step up and fight the turbine project. Warden Gerry Marshall was on the same page.
“It shows we’re serious and we’re engaged in the conversation,” Marshall said. “In an emergency, if we lose our airport on the east side of the county, then we have to have that airport over in Collingwood be viable as an alternative.
“It’s a huge asset,” he added. “Any benefits to wind turbines are far outweighed by the detriments that are in place by having the turbines put up… in that location.”
The decision to launch the appeal from the county level was quick. Where the lower-tier municipalities had time to confer with their solicitors in closed session before making a decision, county council was not afforded such a luxury, as the deadline to file a notice of appeal Feb. 26, 15 days after the ministry issued the Renewable Energy Approval. As such, issues such as the cost of such an appeal were not debated by the councillors at Thursday’s meeting.
Whatever the cost to launch the appeal is, it will be worth it, the warden said.
“It will be money well spent, whatever the price of it may be,” Marshall said. “There’s three of us there. We can share some legal resources and share some common efforts. I think the cost will be minimized by the three of us working together with a common voice and a common approach.”
The warden was quick to point out the development was a bad idea from an economic development standpoint, as the airport, he said, is instrumental in that portion of the county. However, as Cooper told her colleagues in the council chambers, economic impact is not a grounds for appeal to ERT. Rather, appellants have to base their case for environmental or health and safety reasons.
“I think that we can all agree that planes hitting or being blown off course as a result of a wind turbine would meet serious harm to human health argument,” Richard Butler, a lawyer with Willms and Shier Environment Law, told Collingwood council recently. “What Collingwood would have to show is that on the balance of probability it is more likely than not during the lifetime of the turbines there would be a collision. That really is the test that the (ERT) will look for.”
A 2014 incident in South Dakota might be the best proof, Burton said.
“Experienced pilot, experienced with the area, knew the airport well, knew the wind turbines were there. Got caught in bad weather and he collided with a (turbine),” Burton said. “It wasn’t inexperience that created that. It was the fact that those were there and in the way.”
Fog was an issue in that crash, which killed four people. In the case of inclement weather, wpd Canada stated aircraft should be directed to another airport to avoid an emergency, according to Cooper, a notion she called “ludicrous.”
The possibility of such an aviation incident has put Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in the cross-hairs of Simcoe-Grey MPP Jim Wilson.
In Monday’s Question Period at Queen’s Park, Wilson said he would hold the premier personally responsible if one life was lost as a result of the Fairview project.
Regardless of cost, it is the municipalities’ responsibility to appeal to the ERT, to avoid that kind of a situation, Cooper argued.
“How can you put a price on life?” she said. “Whether it be a medi-vac coming in or a pilots are coming in and all of a sudden there are huge impact changes, whether it be snow squalls or other challenges. What price do you put on that?”
With files from Postmedia Network and The Canadian Press
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