By Leith Dunick, tbnewswatch.com
City officials will find out next Thursday whether or not a judge will allow an arbitrator to decide the fate of four turbines Horizon Wind Inc. has planned for the Nor’Wester Mountain range.
A positive decision in favour of the city would put Horizon’s $126-million lawsuit against the city, filed last fall after council approved 14 of 18 of the company’s planned turbine locations, on hold.
“It would actually stay the lawsuit and move it to an arbitration process,” said City manager Tim Commisso, adding that the arbitration option is a provision of the lease council authorized with Horizon officials.
Commisso could say little directly about the case, because of its sensitive legal nature.
“But the city has certainly put its position forward, filed its papers and Horizon will also have to file its position, similar to a court proceeding where the judge will make a determination,” Commisso said.
“How long it will take, I’m not sure, but essentially it’s a legal proceeding.”
Horizon and the city initially agreed in 2007 to a city-owned site south of the Big Thunder Nordic Park for the Toronto-based company to build a wind farm. However the province axed those plans, which led to a little publicized decision to move the park to the Nor’Wester Mountain range.
Residents and concerned citizens expressed outrage at the plan, citing everything from environmental impact to property devaluation for their opposition.
Council spent the better part of 2010 debating the issue, ultimately deciding to approve the majority of the turbine locations, but not enough to satisfy the company.
The suit, filed on Oct. 19 at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Toronto, a week before Thunder Bay held its municipal election, seeks damages for misrepresentation, breach of contract, breach of duty of good faith, wrongful interference with economic interests and damages for breach of a non-disclosure contract.
At the time, then mayoral candidate Keith Hobbs called it “a poorly negotiated, poorly handled and very poor site location.”
Commisso said the city is seeking the arbitration route for fiscal reasons.
“Certainly the litigation involves a substantial claim for financial damages and things like that. The view is that the arbitration process is provided for in the lease. We’re just exercising that option, but we’re having the hearing to have a judge essentially make that determination to move it to an arbitration process.”
He added there has been no dialogue of late between the two sides, other than through legal channels.
“I think it’s unfortunate that it’s gotten to this point, but it’s the reality and it’s how we’re dealing with it.”
Attempts to reach Horizon Wind Inc. officials for comment on Wednesday afternoon were not successful.
Council held a brief meeting Tuesday night to discuss the progress of the lawsuit and the city’s plan of attack.