BERWICK – It appears that most of North Stormont council’s members have thrown in the towel when it comes to opposing the Nation Rise Wind Farm project, opting instead to move forward with the project’s developer EDP Renewables.
The majority of council, 4-1, voted against a motion presented by Coun. Roxane Villeneuve during a May 27 council meeting that would have labeled the township as an unwilling host of the project. Council has, twice before, approved a resolution indicating it was not willing to host a wind farm project.
“I think it’s important that we continue to demonstrate that we are an unwilling host for any industrial wind turbine project in North Stormont,” she said.
Although Coun. Randy Douglas reiterated he had initially against the project, he told council it was now time to accept the court’s decision.
“The fight was a strong one,” he said. “I did not want the project to proceed. But it’s underway, how can we stop it when there’s so much money being spent?”
He further alleged the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic would result in government tribunals, ministers and courts not having the time or resources to consider further challenges to the project.
“The dollars need to go for economic development, not the court costs, lawsuit settlements and compensation for shutting it down,” Douglas added. “What we can do in North Stormont is to now accept this project, not only as local residents but as Ontarians and Canadians. We can make sure that governments never again impose such divisive decisions on municipalities far away from Toronto.”
Douglas told other elected officials that although the township should treat EDP Renewables as partners, they should still hold it accountable for their actions.
The theme of money was brought up once more during the meeting, this time by Coun. Steve Densham. Although he told council he would support any recommendation that would guarantee the project’s shutdown, he also outlined that going against it now could cause significant financial harm to the township.
“It would put the Nation Rise Community Fund Agreement at risk, which is $6 million, $300,000 a year for 20 years,” he said.
The agreement, signed in April 2018, would see the township receive a total of $6 million from EDP Renewables over 20 years – 90 per cent of which would have to be spent on the township’s Asset Management Plan, whereas the other 10 per cent is to be used for community grants and contribution programs. A clause in the agreement effectively prohibits North Stormont from interfering in the project’s renewable energy application (REA).
Despite the majority of council voting down the Villeneuve’s motion, a group of North Stormont residents continue to voice their disapproval of the project through emails to Mayor Jim Wert.
“The Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks has revoked the licence,” said Finch resident Ruby Mekker in an email to the mayor. “Now the township has a legal obligation to protect the people and support the Minister’s stand. You have been repeatedly informed of the issues.”
Mekker’s email, which she shared with the Standard-Freeholder, pleads with the mayor to rip up the benefit agreement with EDP, arguing council can’t undertake its duties to its residents while allowing the turbines to operate.
The Nation Rise Wind Farm, which will result in 29 wind turbines being erected throughout the north end of the township, has seen several ups and downs in the past few years. The construction of the project began in 2019, following a week-long Environmental Review Tribunal hearing in which the impact the project might have on various at risk species of bats was presented.
Despite the information, the project was allowed to move ahead.
Yet the decision by Ontario’s Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks Jeff Yurek to revoke the Nation Rise’s REA in December 2019 effectively stopped the project in its tracks. It is believed the minister’s decision was taken after considering a request to do so from a community group called the Concerned Citizens of North Stormont (CCNS).
An April 2020 hearing initiated by EDP Renewables into the minister’s decision saw the Ontario Superior Court of Justice reinstate the application in its decision in early May. The CCNS’ lawyer said the group would appeal the decision, but the Standard-Freeholder has not been able to confirm if any appeal has been filed.
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