UPPER NAPPAN, N.S. – Any attempt to restrict the placement of wind turbines in the Wentworth Valley without consulting First Nations people could be met with opposition, a representative of the Sipekne’katik First Nation told Cumberland County’s municipal council on Wednesday.
Speaking during a public hearing into proposed changes to the county’s land-use bylaw regarding wind turbines, Brian Dorey said his organization has not been consulted by the municipality.
“No such bylaw should be passed without meaningful consultation with the Mi’kmaw. We’ve been left out of this process,” Dorey told a large crowd packed into the council chamber for its June committee of the whole meeting. “Council has said it’s not going to pass this bylaw tonight; neither would we, as we’re completely uninformed.”
Dorey is asking the municipality to delay making a decision until a full discussion occurs.
“The municipality cannot ignore Sipekne’katik rights and interests,” Dorey said, adding he will be writing to Premier Tim Houston to ask him to intercede.
The municipality is expected to decide on the proposed amendments to the land-use bylaw later this month.
Cumberland County Mayor Murray Scott said he was impressed by the input from both sides of the argument.
“We’ve heard what we’ve heard over the last six months from those in favour of the moratorium and those opposed,” Scott said following the hearing. “Now that we’ve had a public hearing, our next step is second reading and it will come back to council for a decision.”
At issue is a plan to erect a 100-megawatt wind farm on Higgins Mountain. In January, Cumberland County put in place a six-month moratorium on the development of wind project until it brought its land-use bylaws up to date. This came as members of the citizens’ group Protect Wentworth Valley voiced their opposition to the Higgins Mountain plan.
Dorey, the organization’s operations manager, said Sipekne’katik wants to be a partner in the discussions with the municipality, and he is concerned that property values and aesthetics are being prioritized over treaty rights.
Representing the developers, Daniel Eaton said the exclusion zone threatens the viability of the project, adding they’ve been responsive to residents’ concerns and have already voluntarily withdrawn their turbines to approximately 2.5 kilometres of Highway 4.
“We’ve gone the extra mile,” Eaton said, adding they have spoken to members of the Protect Wentworth Valley group. “We’ve significantly reduced the size of the project and repositioned the turbines strategically from sensitive viewpoints and that was based on specific feedback at specific locations. We’ve self-imposed an exclusion area on the project prior to this bylaw review process to 2.5 kilometres from the highway based on the current design. We feel very strongly these changes have mitigated visual impacts from the valley. We’ve substantially hidden the wind farm.”
Eaton said extensive environmental fieldwork has been completed and many of the turbines will be going on already harvested woodland to reduce the need to remove trees. They also plan to upgrade and use existing logging roads to reduce the need to build new access roads to the turbines.
“We continue to advocate for a fair and fact-based and transparent process. We feel the 3.5-kilometre setback from the Wentworth highway is arbitrary and not grounded in sound planning principles,” Eaton said. “Staff recommended that as part of the process, a Wentworth exclusion be based on professional planning study and be limited geographically to as small an area as reasonable.”
He said the project, as configured, is a win-win for Cumberland County in a responsibly developed clean energy project that addresses the impacts identified by the community, recognizes the uniqueness of the Wentworth Valley and brings cleaner energy to significant benefits to Nova Scotia, Cumberland County and First Nations peoples.
Don Bartlett, president of B6 consultant who helped develop the Sprott windfarm near Amherst a decade ago, said the Higgins Mountain project would bring jobs and development to Cumberland County.
He said the project will have enormous benefits and warned restrictions could threaten the viability of wind energy in Cumberland County. He said a lot of study and work has been done on this project and others.
“A 3.5-kilometre setback is excessive and will effectively eliminate Higgins Mountain,” Bartlett said. “These are exciting times and important decisions have to be made. It’s important to listen to everyone’s concerns, but it’s important to find the balance of what is best to move these projects forward.”
Several members of Protect Wentworth Valley spoke to council, urging it to put additional restrictions in place. Gregor Wilson said he doesn’t believe the developers’ claims. He said there are other areas of the county wind developers can build turbines.
He said there is just as much tax revenue to be made in new housing development in the Wentworth Valley.
“Higgins Mountain is a disaster,” Wilson said. “Cumberland County will get revenue from wind without Higgins. It has upset the local community to a great degree.”
Leslie Dykeman said the valley is an ecosystem that would be threatened by the project. She said it goes beyond protecting the mainland moose to include the forestland.
“Do we want to devastate and cut down these forests and jeopardize our water and wildlife for a matter of maybe 20 years,” she said. “We are all trying to look out for future generations. We agree there’s a climate change crisis, but we’re not sure cutting down what we have left here is the right answer.”
Wentworth resident Diane Powell said the Higgins Mountain project is just another fight for a community that has spent too much time fighting to protect itself.
“We have had to fight to keep these major projects out of Wentworth,” Powell said. “We are an active and vibrant community and it’s because Wentworth is a recreational area in the province. Why the council would want to start allowing major projects to destroy the recreational opportunities is beyond the grasp of residents.”
She said she doesn’t see the benefits of having giant turbines in a prime recreational area.
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