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Chatham-area wind turbine fight could end up in court

CHATHAM – After months of vigorously fighting a wind farm he and others blame for destroying their water quality, Peter Hensel acknowledges he’s running out of options.

“I think the only avenue really left is a class action law suit,” Hensel said in an interview with Farmers Forum.

“We’ve tried to settle it peacefully and everything else and nobody listens or cares,” he said.

Currently under construction and scheduled to start producing power by February 2018, the North Kent Wind 1 farm is a joint project by Samsung Renewable Energy, Pattern Development, the Walpole Island Bkejwanong First Nation, and Entegrus Renewable Energy Inc.

With a total of 34 turbines when it is complete, the North Kent wind farm has a 20-year contract to supply power to Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator.

Hensel is a member of the Chatham-Kent citizen group Water Wells First which maintains that vibrations from pile driving during construction of the North Kent wind farm have contaminated their wells with heavy metals.

Wells that produced clear water for decades are now pumping water that looks greyish black, Hensel said.

Testing has found the material in the water is Kettle Point Black Shale, a material that contains arsenic, lead and uranium, he said.

In all, 16 property owners have complained that their water quality has been damaged, but Hensel suspects the number of people with problems is actually higher.

People with wind turbines on their land won’t complain, he said, and there are others that won’t either because they are afraid it could lower their property values.

Water Wells First has taken its complaints to the developers, the municipality and the provincial government.

Trying to get a response from the Environment Ministry has been an exercise in frustration, he said.

“That is like calling Russia and thinking you are going to get a call back. They do absolutely nothing for us and are negative,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Ministry said the government takes concerns regarding groundwater quality seriously.

Ministry staff are working with the company to evaluate the complaints received about water quality and will visit and obtain information from residences where there are concerns about well water, Gary Wheeler wrote in an email.

Wheeler said the government continues to review additional vibration monitoring data near each complaint location, along with enhanced water quality monitoring results that were collected at select locations within the project area.

“This additional data will be used to support the ministry’s assessment as to whether the complainants may have experienced a short-term, temporary deterioration in water quality (turbidity) that was subsequently resolved,” he said.

Under their Renewable Energy Approval from the province, the developers are obligated to investigate complaints that turbines are affecting water quality.
For the investigation, the wind farm developers hired engineering company AECOM.

In a series of reports, AECOM concluded the groundwater quality issues were not a result of the North Kent Wind 1 construction activities.

Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP Monte McNaughton, who has demanded a halt to the wind farm, doesn’t buy the argument that the wind farm has nothing to do with the water quality problems.

It’s too much of a coincidence, he said.

“I just don’t think the government is taking this issue seriously. I’ve said a number of times if this was happening in Toronto the government would put a moratorium on this until we find out what the problem is,” McNaughton said in an interview.