By Ellen van Wageningen www.windstorstar.com
A Leamington-based company that is proposing to put 700 wind turbines in lakes Erie and St. Clair has hired a high-profile Michigan public relations strategist and former spokesman for the mayor of Detroit.
Daniel Cherrin, who was chief communications officer under former Detroit mayor Ken Cockrel Jr., said Thursday he was hired last week by SouthPoint Wind to speak on its behalf about the controversial project.
“I think there’s a lot of emotions on both sides. … And it’s a very small community and a lot people are friends,” he said.
But the company intends to work with the affected communities and will hold more public meetings after the ones that it has scheduled for March 27, Cherrin said.
SouthPoint is waiting to see the Ministry of Environment’s guidelines for offshore wind turbines before submitting an application under Ontario’s new Green Energy Act, he said. “But they’ll consult with the public and business community before they submit any application.”
Cherrin, a lawyer who also has a public relations firm, said he approached SouthPoint because he is interested in issues relating to the environment and harnessing the potential of the Great Lakes. He said is still getting up to speed on the project, for which SouthPoint has put together a 120-page draft proposal, and expects to be involved in the March 27 public meetings and beyond.
Cherrin, who named his public relations firm North Coast Strategies because of its Michigan location at the centre of the Great Lakes, is also a lawyer — though he is not acting in that capacity for SouthPoint.
From September 2008 to May 2009 he was chief of communications for Cockrel Jr. following the tumultuous tenure of disgraced mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who left office after pleading guilty to criminal charges related to a text messaging scandal.
Cherrin was also lead federal lobbiest for the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce in its efforts to keep commercial traffic following across the Canada-U.S. border after 9-11. His firm has worked with the University of Windsor to increase its profile in Michigan and, in the past, for the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel Corporation.
He steps into a public relations breach for SouthPoint, which is owned by the Liovas family that has been involved in construction and development in Essex County for many years. The wind company has been mum since revealing its latest proposal on its website last month.
The majority of the 700 turbines for the 1,400-megawatt project would be in Lake Erie south of Essex County and Chatham-Kent.
Leamington Mayor John Adams and Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos told a breakfast meeting of the Leamington and District Chamber of Commerce Thursday that their towns are joining forces to make their case against the project. Essex County council will be asked to take a position and put money into challenging the SouthPoint application, said Santos, who is also county warden.
He criticized SouthPoint for not being more forthcoming.
“They’re really being cautious in what access the public has to them and that’s a real concern,” Santos said. The town asked the company to move its March 27 public meeting in Kingsville from a room at the arena to the Lakeside Park Pavilion to accommodate more people, he said.
Residents and town officials in Leamington and Kingsville are familiar with SouthPoint, which since 2006 has been trying to get approval to put 15 wind turbines offshore in Lake Erie.
While the Leamington district chamber won’t take an official position, most members that have sought the organization’s backing fear the negative effects of SouthPoint’s proposal, said president Nick Mastronardi.
All 55 members who attended the breakfast Thursday indicated they can’t support the plan based on what they have been told to date.
“A small contingent” of companies that would benefit from construction work have spoken in favour of the plan by SouthPoint, which is not a chamber member, he said.
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SouthPoint Wind will hold the following public meetings March 27 about its proposal:
– 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at the Puce Sports and Leisure Centre, 962 Old Tecumseh Rd., Lakeshore.
– Noon to 2 p.m. at the Lakeside Park Pavilion, 325 Queen St., Kingsville.
– 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Princess Centre, 33 Princess St., Leamington.
– 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Harrow arena, 243 McAffee St.
– 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Amherstburg Recreation Centre, 179 Victoria St. S.
– 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Wheels Inn, 615 Richmond St., Chatham.