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Wait continues to frustrate Water Wells First group

Residents suffering water-well problems on their properties near the North Kent 1 Wind farm are growing tired of waiting for answers.

Water Wells First members were once optimistic after a promise made by Ontario Progressive Conservative Party Leader Doug Ford during last year’s provincial election campaign that a health-hazard investigation would be initiated if he was elected premier.

However, since the citizens’ group received that promise in writing from Ford last May, its members continue to wait for this investigation to start.

Last October, the Progressive Conservatives said the Ministry of Health had directed Ontario’s chief medical officer to begin reviewing data on past collections of water samples to get answers for affected families as a first step in the process. Jessica Brooks, spokesperson for Water Wells First, recently issued a release to media over the continued frustration about the situation.

“We keep getting promises,” Brooks said.

She added those who continue to have problems with their wells were hoping to hear something concrete at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference at the end of February, not a promise that an announcement was coming soon.

Brooks said a major concern is the fact neither the Environment Ministry nor the water testing offered by the Municipality of Chatham-Kent to well owners is looking at the sediments found in the water.

She added Waters Wells First has just taken water to test to see if there are dissolved metals.

“We’re saying, ‘No, the metals are in the sediment itself; it’s the sediment that’s the pollutant,’” she said.

Water Wells First began publicly raising concerns in June 2016 about the potential impacts of pile driving to anchor the towering industrial wind turbines into the Kettle Point black shale at the base of the aquifer in the area. Later, a number of residents came forward saying their water-well systems had become clogged with sediments, which was believed to be caused by the vibrations from the pile driving and operation of the turbines.

Hayley Chazan, a spokesperson for Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Christine Elliott, provided a statement after being contacted with questions regarding the concerns raised by Water Wells First.

“During the election, our government made a promise to stand with impacted families living in Chatham-Kent,” she said. “We’ve begun the process, reached out to the chief medical officer of health and are beginning to review the data.

“We look forward to having more to say on the matter.”

Brooks said there are still several landowners, including herself, experiencing well interference.

“My unofficial count, by just people talking to me and telling me, I’m up to over 40 wells,” she said.

The concern Water Wells First has repeated is the potential harm to human health posed by the heavy metals, such as mercury, arsenic and lead, contained in the Kettle Point black shale.

Brooks said Water Wells First simply wants the appropriate ministry to provide a definitive answer about whether or not Kettle Point black shale is a health risk. She added the group also wants to know what level of the black shale is acceptable or safe for human consumption.

“We just need an answer from somebody, and nobody wants to provide it.”

Water Wells First is also raising questions about why Chatham-Kent’s medical officer of health, Dr. David Colby, will be speaking at the Wind Turbine Noise 2019 Conference, being held in Lisbon, Portugal, in June.

The titled of an abstract he has submitted is Wind Turbines and Groundwater Contamination: An Analysis.

Brooks said Colby told her he is not presenting any new information when she asked for a copy of his presentation.

Colby explained he has simply taken published data, available to the public online, including that from Aecom, an engineering firm that worked on the North Kent Wind project, to provide an analysis on the subject.

He added his report is embargoed until the conference.

Dick Bowdler, chair of the organizing committee for the conference, said in an email: “We specifically ask for papers on ‘non-acoustic factors’ that may affect people’s perception of turbines.”

Colby’s report falls into that category, he said, adding the conference has not had a paper on groundwater contamination in the past.

“Nobody had heard of this before, so that’s why I decided to describe what happened here in Chatham-Kent,” Colby said.

He added he’s usually asked to chair sessions at the conference, which he has attended a number of times in the past.

Colby said he pays out of his own pocket to attend the conference and does not receive money from anybody to attend.