By Carol Martin, SooToday.com
NDP Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington thought long and hard about what would change if proposed industrial wind projects go ahead in the Algoma area.
He really started thinking after skiing around King Mountain with local environmentalist and Lake Superior champion Gary McGuffin.
Skiing over King Mountain and actually looking at the valley and seeing what was being proposed, said Bevington, he recognized there wasn’t proper environmental assessment for the huge wind-power project.
Bevington was disturbed when he realized that very little is actually known about how the area may be affected.
And it appeared that neither governments nor the companies proposing to develop the land were making any kind of significant effort to rectify that.
SooToday.com caught up with Bevington at a brunch with Sault MP Tony Martin and a few members of Save Ontario Algoma Region (SOAR) at the Voyageur Lodge, about 70 kilometres up Highway 17 north from Sault Ste. Marie.
A former mayor of Fort Smith, Northwest Territories with energy-sector business experience, Bevington said the process for building industrial wind projects should be subject to the same federal and provincial guidelines, regulations and legislation as other industrial developments.
Right now, especially in Ontario, they are not, he said.
The Ontario government has offered incentives that have resulted in projects that might have been borderline, at best, being rushed through with little or no community consultation or environmental assessment, he said.
Worse than that, no one is looking at the cumulative effects that could be wrought on the culture, heritage, wildlife and the economy of communities like the ones in Algoma that could be adversely affected by the growing number of development proposals.
At least no one in government, anyway.
Tony Martin said that members of SOAR have been preparing an inventory of local resources that might be affected by development.
Both Gary McGuffin and wife Joanie have been working to protect the Lake Superior coastline and watershed since their two-year, 6,000-mile paddle around the lake and up to the Beaufort Sea in the early 80s.
They’ve met and joined forces with many others along the way.
Together, people living along the lake from Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie – and around the American side as well – have declared it an area that’s fast losing its wild spaces and is in need of protection.
Even the Ontario Government agreed, commissioning a $5 million study of the Great Lakes Heritage Coast, which it promptly shelved just in time for the trap-rock controversy of 2007.
A flurry of developments in trap-rock harvesting have been proposed along the north shore of Lake Superior, says Gary McGuffin.
And now, he says wind towers would add to the devastation along the heritage coastline and further cut off access to the lake.
Joanie McGuffin wonders how much longer people will come to the lake to find a nostalgic reconnection to unspoiled nature and history, with wind towers dotting the landscape as far as the eye can see.
Gary wonders how many animals, fish and plants will die because of the towers and the roads needed to build and access those towers.
Tony Martin wonders what will become of the stable, dependable jobs that have been created in the tourism industry in the area.
Bevington hopes that the people of the area will get involved and send a message to their elected members of Parliament, to say we can’t afford to go ahead with projects that would cause irreparable harm to this precious area.
Governments need to start looking at the cumulative effects of multiple projects and stop trying to look at each project in a bubble, he said.
The Western Arctic MP also questioned the sustainability and efficiency of the wind energy movement in general.
“Wind energy is a mature science,” he said. “Whatever can be done with it has been tried before.”
If wind energy was so efficient, especially on a larger scale, he argues, why hasn’t it been used on a wider scale when we’ve had access to it all this time?
Bevington said an effective national energy plan would place more emphasis on the growing solar energy industry, especially on small-scale opportunities for home owners.
This plan would encourage conservation and offer incentives for people to generate and use electricity in localized areas, rather than selling it into the grid, he said.
SOAR and Tony Martin will be hosting an information session at Alexander Henry High School in early March where they hope to have much more information to share about the proposed projects, impacts of industrial wind energy projects and be able to hear more concerns from area citizens.