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Saugeen Shores wants parallel turbine testing

Saugeen Shores councillors believe only an independent, parallel acoustic audit will determine if the UNIFOR turbine in Port Elgin is operating in compliance with government standards.

Councillors unanimously asked for a third-party review at the March 13 committee of the whole meeting, and directed staff to negotiate with UNIFOR to allow Town testing when UNIFOR conducts an acoustic audit of the turbine this spring.

Over 350 local residents have filed complaints with the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) about health issues they believe are related to turbine operations. Freedom of Information request found test results showing apparent non-compliant noise readings.

The MOECC expects UNIFOR to deliver results of its acoustic testing before June 30 – testing that has been promised, but not done, since the turbine began operating four years ago. Councillors also asked staff to work with the turbine opposition group S.T.O.P. (Saugeen Shores Turbine Operation Policy) to find a appropriate qualified contractor to do the parallel acoustic audit, and possibly share the cost.

Members of S.T.O.P “continue to be tortured” by audible and inaudible noise from UNIFOR’s 35-story industrial turbine at in Gobles Grove, according to S.T.O.P. spokesman Greg Schmalz who told councillors that despite evidence of harm – headaches, vertigo, sleep disruption, high blood pressure and dizziness – and the Town calling for the turbine to cease operating, no compliance testing has been done since 2014 when an audit was called off because of adverse wind conditions.

Schmalz is especially frustrated with promises by the province and the then-CAW president for turbine testing for noise compliance during its first two years of operation.

In response to an earlier letter from the Town asking for a mandatory, not voluntary, acoustic audit, MOECC Minister Glen Murray said it informed UNIFOR that the full acoustic audit must be completed and submitted for review by the end of June.

Deputy Mayor Luke Charbonneau, who drafted the motion along with Coun. Cheryl Grace, said he continues to get turbine operation complaints “almost daily” and asked how far the Town would go to ensure the test information gathered is accurate, fair and presented in a balanced way.

He said results of an independent acoustic audit would allow the Town to know if the turbine was operating in compliance with the law.

“And that’s an important thing for the community to know, and I think it will help UNIFOR honestly, because it will help them to have results … [be] taken seriously and be trusted…” Charbonneau said, adding he is fully willing to accept the testing outcome.

Noting that the Town, with little influence, had struggled against provincial legislation, including filing a complaint to the Ontario Ombudsman that is currently investigating possible non-compliance claims raised by the Town, Mayor Mike Smith suggested only a change in government at Queen’s Park in 2018 could resolve the dispute.

Outside the council chambers, Schmalz said the MOECC called the UNIFOR turbine a “high profile and contentious turbine approval”, and after the Port Elgin approval, the law was changed to require a 550-metre setback from a turbine to the nearest property – there are 100 properties located within that zone around the UNIFOR turbine.