Chalk one up for Big Wind.
Korean industrial giant Samsung and an American partner won a court ruling Monday that bans blockades by protesters or other interference in the construction of a 100-megawatt wind farm in north Chatham-Kent.
The injunction ruling, in a region where wind farms are deeply polarizing, made clear protesters can go only so far fighting the energy projects that have drawn flak from many across the region, including some municipalities that have declared they don’t want them.
In delivering his ruling, banning any trespassing on the site or attempts to block its construction, Ontario Superior Court Justice Kirk Munroe said repeated summer protests over the Dresden-area project, which included blocking some entrances to tower construction sites, were a major factor in his decision.
“That run of escalating protests culminated in a total takeover of one of the construction sites for many days,” Munroe said.
The 11-day occupation of the site led to an interim injunction in early September banning anyone from blockading, obstructing or impeding access to the North Kent Wind project, a joint venture of Samsung and U.S.-based Pattern Energy.
“I cannot ignore that this is a protest which has not ended. It has maintained its vigour and continues with the goal of ending the construction of the project,” the judge said, adding he’s not trying to “muzzle” the project’s opponents, but only to “prohibit unlawful acts.”
Ground Zero for industrial wind turbines, Southwestern Ontario is home to the province’s largest wind farms and largest number of towers. Activists opposed to their construction have waged political and other battles against wind farms, including questioning their fallout on human health.
Monday’s ruling – involving protesters fearful that pile-driving from the North Kent Wind Project is damaging their water wells – appeared to draw a line that can’t be crossed for the projects.
North Kent Wind had sought the injunction against Water Wells First, a citizens’ group, and Cindy Soney of Walpole Island First Nation.
Water Wells First spokesperson Kevin Jakubec said later lawful protests will continue near turbine sites and at area Environment Ministry offices. A class-action lawsuit may be a possibility, he added.
He said there’s a hesitancy to take on large wind energy firms with deep pockets. “Absolutely, there’s that feeling of intimidation from a big multinational, like Samsung,” he said.
The company said in a statement it respects citizens’ rights to be heard, but protesters’ activity had escalated to point where the company believed it could not continue to operate safely.
Jakubec’s lawyer, Mark MacKew, said his client plans to focus on science instead of legal battles, since it appears well owners will have to prove the project is damaging their water wells.
“Oddly enough, it looks like it’s contingent upon the water well owners to prove this is more than coincidence, they have to prove causation,” he said.
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