By Leith Dunick, tbnewswatch.com
Horizon Wind will have a definitive answer on Oct. 12 whether or not the city plans to allow the company’s proposed Nor’Wester Mountain Range wind turbine farm to go ahead.
City council on Monday ordered administration to prepare a public report on the land lease and the turbine locations, giving them just three days to post it on the city’s website.
Mayor Lynn Peterson, who spent more than two hours Monday night behind closed doors discussing the $75-million project with the rest of council, administration and city’s legal advisor, said it’s time to make a decision once and for all.
“We’ve certainly had a long, long discussion about this, and we certainly want to put this to bed and make a decision finally in the community,” Peterson said. “There’s nothing at work here, other than we’ve had a lot of information over about 13 or 14 meetings. And I believe that council wants to see a recommendation from administration to vote on.”
Coun. Andrew Foulds said it’s about time council held up its hands and said yea or nay about the controversial project, that would see 18 turbines erected on the mountain range.
“I think at the end of the day it’s council that has to make the decision,” Foulds said.
Peterson balked when asked if the city’s hand was being forced by the threat of a lawsuit by Horizon Wind, an option that has been wildly speculated in recent weeks, but denied by the company.
“We’ve had a process going here for almost a year, so I’m not going to count on that,” the mayor said.
Council’s decision to set a drop-dead date to make a decision did not sit well with opponents of the wind farm, mostly consisting of a group of Neebing residents concerned about plummeting property values, health issues and the environmental impact associated – fairly or unfairly – with wind-farm projects.
Nor’Wester Mountain Range Escarpment Protection Committee spokeswoman Irene Bond said she’s sick of hollow promises of transparency from the city, adding she’s very skeptical about how council is conducting business as the Oct. 25 municipal election nears.
“This is definitely not open, it’s not transparent and it is certainly not timely. We’re wondering what is the rush?” she said, also questioning the undisclosed amount of money the city last week authorized to do a rushed study on the validity of Horizon’s study on the turbines’ impact on the view from six key areas of the city, as well as their proposed locations.
“It was a complete waste of taxpayers’ dollars, because this has been done before. We weren’t saying the view-shed analysis was incorrect. It was inadequate. By only using Horizon’s data, this (Dillon Consulting Ltd.) admitted it would be reasonable to add more vantage points to the viewshed analysis, and that that would take time.”
NMEPC spokesman Sam Bachinski, who wouldn’t confirm that opponents are preparing a lawsuit of their own should the city and province ultimately approve the project, said he does plan to speak with the province’s closed-door-meeting investigator, to see if the city violated the law by potentially discussing matters not covered under the municipal closed-door policy.
“I’m disappointed about his whole process,” he said. “None of this should be behind closed doors. According to the municipal act the city has the option to hold closed-door meetings if they choose, on something like this, only on the acquisition or disposition of lands. This is neither the acquisition nor the disposition of lands. All these meetings should be held in open session.”
The Dillon study examined data from six different vantage points in the city, including two on Loch Lohmond Road, one on Deepwood Drive and one at Hillcrest Park.
Dillon Consulting’s Mario Buszynski said they could only do what they were asked, and had less than a week to conduct their study.
“Clearly we didn’t have the time to (study other view-sheds) in the time we were given,” he said. “All we could do is look at the existing viewpoints and determine if they were accurate. Could we look at other view points? Certainly. Could we look at the (Loch Lohmond) ski hill? Certainly,” he said.
Meanwhile Peterson said the three day timeframe for administration to get a report done is more than adequate.
“I believe there is,” she said. “We’ve got to talk about what the recommendation is and what the process is to get there. Administration certainly heard the questions tonight that were being asked by council. They know what type of questions we expect to have answered.”
Council will ratify its Oct. 12 decision at the Oct. 18 city council meeting, the final gathering before the election. The province must still give the final OK to the project.