Andy Koopal frowned as he looked down at the freshly cut metre-wide tree trunk, recalling the majestic oak that it once supported.
“That tree was over 150 years old,” he said. “It was a perfect healthy tree. There was no need for it.”
He said the tree – likely a sapling when Canada became a country – was one of eight old growth oaks that border his 10 hectares of farmland on Concession 6 in Wellandport, near Side Road 42.
When the Fort Erie resident drove into Wainfleet recently, he said he was shocked to see that all of the trees were cut down and removed.
“I came by here Saturday. Then I saw the damage they did,” he said.
Along with Koopal’s trees, likely hundreds more were cut throughout rural west Niagara to make room for transmission lines feeding into new industrial wind turbines being built near by Niagara Region Wind Farm, said Wainfleet’s engineering manager Richard Nan.
The company is building a 230 Megawatt industrial wind farm, with wind turbines located in Wainfleet, West Lincoln and Lincoln.
Wainfleet Mayor April Jeffs said Koopal is one of several residents who have contacted the town concerned about the tree cutting.
Jeffs said the loss of trees “has really changed the landscape out that way.”
“People out there have been calling us and saying they don’t like it and they’re concerned especially with the removal of the trees,” she said. “I know we had some residents call a few weeks back because they’d taken down a whole whack of trees. It’s been ongoing.”
Niagara Region Wind Farm project co-ordinator Shiloh Berriman wouldn’t say how many trees would be cut on along the 45 km route laid out for the transmission lines.
“That’s not public information that we’re willing to give out. We haven’t finished out tree clearing yet, so I don’t actually have a number. And it’s not something public that we would like to give out,” she said.
Berriman said the company has had complaints from property owners, as well. But most of the time, she said people have raised their concerns before the trees have been cut, giving the company an opportunity to work with residents to preserve them, when possible.
“Case-by-case, depending what it is, we try to do the best we can to limit the amount of trees being cleared,” she said. “Regardless, we only cut what we have to.”
Arbourists, she added, are also working with the company, assessing the area to ensure that the minimum number of trees are cut.
And trees are preserved whenever possible – including several trees that were saved on Shafley Rd. in Wainfleet, not far from Koopal’s property, she said.
Nan said municipalities including Wainfleet have agreements with the company, allowing it to clear trees within the road right of way.
He said the Green Energy Act also allows green energy companies “to cut everything within 10 feet of that hydro wire,” including trees on private property.
Although property owners are supposed to be notified prior to the tree cutting, Koopal said he was never contacted by the company.
“They never contacted me or gave me an option,” he complained.
Berriman, however, said notices were sent out to affected property owners by courier last July or August, informing them about the tree cutting.
“We also drop off letters on a regular basis for notifications of what we’re doing,” she added.
Nan said the agreement with municipalities also requires the company to plant new trees to replace the ones that were cut.
And Nan said the company is required to plant several trees to replace larger old growth trees, like the oaks bordering on Koopal’s property.
But newly planted saplings – regardless of how many are planted – pale in comparison to the 150 year old oak trees that were cut down.
“We’re not going to get a new 150 year old oak tree,” Nan said. “That’s the biggest issue.”
Berriman said the tree cutting will continue for a few more weeks, to allow for the transmission lines.
The full project is scheduled to be complete by this August.
Koopal said it’s ironic that healthy old growth trees are being cut down for a “green energy” project.
“They’re so concerned about the environment, and then they cut perfectly healthy trees down,” he said.
Jeffs said Wainfleet has led efforts against allow wind turbines to be built in rural communities.
Late last week, the township issued a media release saying 51 other municipalities have so far endorsed a resolution passed by the township council in late January 2016, calling on the provincial government not to award more Feed-In-Tariff contracts for power generation from wind, since a recent Auditor General Report showed Ontario has a surplus of power generation capacity.
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