The opening stages of construction of the Amherst Island wind energy project are underway, much to the dismay of the residents who opposed the development.
Workers are building footings for a new dock and a marshalling area on the island west of the village of Stella.
Michele Le Lay, president of the Association to Protect Amherst Island, said the start of construction has come before all of the required permits have been secured and before efforts to stop the project have finished.
“It’s worrisome because they don’t have all their permits and they are starting,” Le Lay said. “You have to have all your permits before you start.”
The initial work on Algonquin Power-owned Windlectric’s 26-turbine, 75-megawatt project was to include construction of the mainland dock and access road, island dock and access road, island staging area access road, transmission line work and a portion of the island staging area for aggregate storage and positioning of the batch cement factory.
The start of work is made even worse, Le Lay said, because there is little information coming from the company about its plans.
“If this company is going to be a neighbour for 20 years, the way they are acting in the first part of construction, if it’s an indication of the relationship with the community, it’s sort of scary,” she said.
“We don’t know what is happening.”
The company set up a new Twitter account for the project (@Amherst_WindP), which has posted four messages since Dec. 6.
“That doesn’t really tell people how traffic is going to be managed, when they are going to close the roads,” Le Lay said. “One day this week they brought in equipment and the ferry was delayed for an hour. The road was blocked here.”
Le Lay said tha tin the age of social media, to have daily updates on the project is not an unrealistic expectation.
“It’s a condition in the approval that they should be communicating with the public,” Le Lay said. “But there’s no consequences if they don’t or if they do it in a fashion that is not really informative or helpful. But, hey, they get away with it.”
In early December, the company held the first meeting of the community liaison committee, a group made up of company officials, residents and government officials. The public was invited to view the proceedings but could not participate.
The creation of the committee was among the conditions the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) put on the company when it gave conditional approval to the project in August 2015. The committee is to meet on a monthly basis during construction of the project, and at least two of its meetings each year will be open to observation by the public, but Le Lay said the initial meeting provided few answers to the questions that were raised.
“The lack of transparency is not helping the company,” she said. “If they were up front it would be more helpful.”
While work on the island dock is proceeding, the same cannot be said for the mainland dock.
In December, Loyalist Township suspended the building permit for the mainland dock because the municipality was not satisfied that one of the documents required for the permit to be issued – the certificate of property use – needed to be amended.
The company in response stated that the certificate and all other required documents were in order.
The dispute about the mainland dock building permit is set against an overall disagreement between the township and the company about the level of planning that has been published for the construction of the project.
In October, Algonquin Power submitted a 200-page operations plan for construction. The next month, Loyalist Township’s chief administrative officer Bob Maddocks replied that the operations plan was not good enough.
APAI’s appeal to the Environmental Review Tribunal ruling that dismissed the group’s appeal of the project’s approval is to be in court on Jan. 31.
The group has also appealed to Catherine McKenna, the federal environment and climate change minister, to launch a federal environmental assessment of the cumulative impact of wind energy projects on Lake Ontario on the Atlantic migratory flyway and to examine if the projects comply with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
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