Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment and its minister are set to appear in court next month after the Ontario Court of Justice determined there are reasonable grounds to believe environmental offences were committed at several wind turbine projects in Chatham-Kent.
The charges come under Section 14 of the Environmental Protection Act, according to summons documents viewed by Postmedia on Friday.
Environment Minister Jeff Yurek is accused in one document of failing to take reasonable care to prevent the installation and operation of the turbines at the East Lake St. Clair Wind Farm, run by Engie Canada, and at the North Kent 1 Wind Farm, run by Pattern Energy Group and Samsung Renewable Energy, from discharging or causing or permitting the discharge of contaminants.
“As this matter is before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment,” said Andrew Buttigieg, Yurek’s press secretary.
Engie Canada couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
In an email, Pattern Energy stated: “North Kent Wind is not aware of a summons that has been issued to the North Kent Wind project. We are in the process of gathering additional information related to this matter.”
Residents in the North Kent area have voiced concerns about their private water wells and the potential for contamination by black shale and hazardous metals.
Jessica Brooks, a spokesperson for grassroots group Water Wells First, said the charges give her group’s argument some merit after years of claiming the wind turbine projects in Chatham-Kent were causing sediment from the Kettle Point black shale to enter private water wells.
“It’s very nice to finally feel like somebody’s listening to us,” Brooks said. “Another interesting piece of it is to show that there was actually some level of negligence.”
She said the Ministry of Environment and companies installing the wind turbines knew something could happen, but went ahead with the projects anyway.
“They’ve left a whole bunch of people without clean drinking water,” Brooks said.
She said many people haven’t understood what private well owners have been going through.
Many people had said the issues well owners were having were their own fault, due to problems like old wells, Brooks added.
“I think this legitimizes a lot of our complaints,” Brooks said. “This is a good step towards hopefully getting us some relief.”
The Municipality of Chatham-Kent, which is not named in the action, holds a 15 per cent equity interest in North Kent Wind through its affiliate, Entegrus Renewable Energy Inc.
John Norton, the municipality’s general manager of community development and chief legal official, said he couldn’t provide an in-depth comment, given the issue in now before the courts.
“We want to let the court system take its course and we’ll obviously be interested in learning more,” he said. “We’ve just found out about it, so we’ll have to try to find out more about it and see whether we need to have a presence (in court).”
The matter will come up at the provincial offences court in Blenheim on Aug. 14.
According to the Ontario government website, environmental penalties can range from $1,000 per day for less serious violations, such as failure to submit a quarterly report, to $100,000 per day for the most serious violations.
“We’ve certainly been supportive of our residents in trying to help them find solutions,” Norton said. “The municipality offered to pay for testing, water testing, for residents. … (We’ve) tried to engage the Ministry of the Environment, who have jurisdiction over the wind turbines and environmental matters.”
The charges also come in the wake of the province’s decision – announced late last week – to conduct an independent health hazard review of private water wells in the Chatham-Kent area prompted by local concerns about sediment in the drinking water.