by ERICA BAJER, Chatham Daily News
Those opposed to the Kent Breeze Wind Farm will attempt to prove the eight-turbine project near Thamesville will cause serious harm to human health.
Opening statements were heard during the first day of the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal Tuesday at the Chatham-Kent Civic Centre. Lawyer Eric Gillespie, acting on behalf of appellants Katie Erickson and Chatham-Kent Wind Action Inc., said the focus of the case deals with the medical impacts on human health such as sleep disturbances, stress or psychological distress, inner ear symptoms, headaches and loss of enjoyment of life.
He will call 10 experts from around the world – Canada, United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia – to give evidence about the effects turbines have on humans.
“The appellant’s case, in our submission, is based on science,” he said. “That science has evolved to the point where experts from around the world . . . will be coming before this tribunal to say that in their professional opinions the Kent Breeze Wind Farm, as approved, will cause serious harm to human health.”
Gillespie’s clients are appealing the approval of the wind farm, owned by Suncor, under the Green Energy Act. The project was the first approved under the province’s newly amended Act. Ministry of Environment lawyer Fredricka Rotter said that’s the real reason for the appeal, not the alleged threat to human health. ”
This is the first one (approval); they all jumped on the bandwagon,” she said. “All these experts that the appellants have rallied . . . are essentially advocates. All these experts have an anti-wind turbine agenda. That’s what this hearing is about.” She said the appellant’s witnesses are not impartial, unbiased experts. ”
A lot of it is fear mongering and rabble rousing,” she said. “There has been lots of debate . . . but to date there has been no conclusive evidence that (turbines) will cause harm.” Suncor lawyer Albert Engel noted nine of Gillespie’s 10 witnesses are members of a wind energy watchdog group called the Society for Wind Vigilance.
“The appellants are stretching the facts to meet the test in this particular appeal,” Engel said. “There’s no technical or scientific basis to prove these facilities pose serious risk to human health.” In essence, he said the appellants are seeking an injunction on this wind farm. “There is no evidence of actual harm at this site. The site is not yet operational,” he said.
Engel said Suncor went through a rigourous application process, including public consultation and noise assessments, to get approval for the wind farm, which he said is in line with the government’s Green Energy and Green Economy Act. “The purpose of it (Act) is to provide for the protection and preservation of the environment,” he said. “Environment includes, among many things, human life.” Calling the appeal “novel,” Engel said the tribunal should recognize that the appellants face a very high standard of proof and the onus is on them to prove the wind farm will cause serious harm to human health.
Rotter said the standard of proof is higher than a balance of probabilities as in civil litigation. She noted that the tribunal’s focus is very narrow – it is not to question wind farms in general but to determine if this specific project will cause serious harm to human health.
“It’s not about reviewing the noise guidelines. It’s not about minimum setbacks,” she said. “The tribunal doesn’t have the right to sit in judgment about all these things.” The Ministry of the Environment plans to call five witnesses, including director Mansoor Mahmood, who approved the Kent Breeze Wind Farm. Suncor plans to call seven witnesses during the hearing, which continues Wednesday.