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Arbitration looms in wind energy project battle

Loyalist Township council threw a curveball Monday night at the company building a wind energy project on Amherst Island.

Council deferred approval of the draft operations plan from Algonquin Power’s subsidiary Windlectric Inc. until it can be determined how best to protect the island’s road system, a move that likely means the two sides will be headed to arbitration.

The operations plan is one of the conditions that the company has to meet as part of a road use agreement the two sides signed last year.

In January 2016, the township approved a road use agreement that allowed the company access to the road network on the island.

When the township council approved the road use agreement, it said the main reason forgoing so was to give it some control over the impacts of the project on the island.

Township staff are concerned about the impact of the construction process on the island’s road network, Dave Thompson, director of infrastructure services, wrote in a report to council Monday night.

“On a theoretical basis, the project should have a net zero effect on the township’s road assets, as Windlectric is responsible to maintain the impacted roads during the construction phase of their project and return the roads to their pre-project condition when windmill-related construction is complete,” Thompson wrote.

Unlike the rest of Loyalist Township, and the rest of Ontario for that matter, the road network on the island was built largely on private land without public road allowances that would allow for widening, or reinforcing.

“Simplistic and unique in Eastern Ontario” is how Thompson’s report described the island roads system.

“Township staff and their technical consultants are concerned that the current version of the Ops Plan insufficiently addresses the structural road capacity for all of the roads impacted by construction,” Thompson added. “There is a major concern that the thousands of heavy loads proposed will destroy the existing road beds. These same road beds have performed adequately for local traffic experienced by Amherst Island, but were never designed for the extensive vehicle loadings as proposed by Windlectric.

Prior to Monday’s deferral, a senior Algonquin Power official said the staff recommendation to defer, if accepted, would force the company to seek arbitration.

“Due to the differences separating Windlectric and the Township, Windlectric can see no basis on which arbitration can be avoided on some of the issues identified in the staff report,” Jeff Norman, Algonquin Power’s chief development officer, wrote in a letter to the township last week. “Accordingly, Windlectric will have no choice but to commence arbitration proceedings.”