By Susan Hundertmark, Huron Expositor
Responding to a recently published map of a planned 15-turbine wind project north of St. Columban, members of Huron East Against Turbines (HEAT) made an impassioned plea to councillors to do more to protect their health concerns at council’s March 8 meeting.
“All of us here are on that map and that’s probably not true of anyone else here. We are the receptors. For us, this is real,” said HEAT member Jeanne Melady. “Am I afraid for my health? Yes, I am. Other municipalities are passing bylaws they know will not stand but they want to say this matters.”
HEAT member Tom Melady told councillors that all three speakers from Huron-Kinloss who attended a public meeting in Seaforth on wind turbines are no longer living in their homes.
“That’s why we’re virtually pleading to you to protect the health of your ratepayers,” he said.
HEAT member Gerry Ryan said the notice of draft site plan and proposal to engage in a renewable energy project, published recently in The Huron Expositor, has the legal effect of preventing anyone who lives in the region to build a house any closer than 550 metres from the planned turbine sites marked on the map. He added it also begins the public engagement process and asked if council would be enacting its cost recovery bylaw.
“The way we read it, once the wind company starts the process that’s when your bylaw kicks in and you have to engage in an agreement with them to meet your requirements in your cost recovery bylaw so that process should start now,” said Ryan.
McKillop Coun. Bill Siemon suggested Clerk-Administrator Jack McLachlan consult with the municipality’s solicitor with HEAT’s request.
Ryan asked if council had met with Pristine Power in the last four months and was told that the administration committee, consisting of former Mayor Joe Seili, current Deputy Mayor Joe Steffler and McKillop Coun. Andrew Flowers had met with the wind company.
The discussion became heated when Ryan asked if the meeting had been a public one and why HEAT hadn’t been notified.
“We gave them the same right as anybody else. They asked for an invitation to meet and we met. We gave HEAT a committee meeting and we didn’t have to notify the wind energy group so we gave the wind energy group the same common courtesy. I’m sorry Mr. Ryan but that’s the way it works. If you have a problem with that, tough,” said Seili.
“When we had that meeting with (HEAT lawyer) Kristi Ross, was that a public meeting?” asked Flowers.
“Absolutely,” responded Ryan.
Clerk-Administrator Jack McLachlan said after the council meeting that the meeting with Pristine Power was not an administration committee meeting but a more informal meeting and was held on Nov. 23.
“We talked about the progress of the wind project and how to have public meetings and engage the public,” he said.
Ryan also asked that Huron East put the ACW (Ashfield Colborne Wawanosh) bylaw in place with 2,000-metre setbacks but McLachlan said Huron East’s solicitor advised council against doing so since municipalities cannot control setbacks under the Green Energy Act. Ryan argued that Huron-Kinloss, ACW and Arran-Elderslie have put bylaws in place, knowing that could be turned down.
“All of these municipalities have turbines in place and understand the implications of turbines so they’re doing something to send a message to protect their citizens. All we’re asking is you do something similar with a setback so that if there is a turn of government this fall, you have something in place you can come back to,” he said.
The ACW bylaw, passed in December, governs wind turbine development in the municipality, making the developer responsible for a number of costs incurred by the municipality during the building and operation of the wind turbines and sets a minimum setback of 2,000 metres between wind turbines and settlement areas or any collection of six or seasonal/ recreational facilities intended for human occupancy and a minimum setback of 1,000 metres between wind turbines and all other residential uses or structures designated for human habitation, including areas zoned future development.
Ryan said he and two other HEAT members met with Huron-Bruce MPP Carol Mitchell on Nov. 12 and were told by her that municipalities still have the power to ask for a 2,000-metre setback from wind turbines, information that Ryan said he was surprised to hear.
“She taped the meeting, it’s on record, talk to her,” said Ryan, who added that he doesn’t have a copy of the tape because Mitchell required the HEAT members to sign a non-disclosure agreement to have access to the tape and they weren’t willing to do that.
“There isn’t any reason you should be concerned about being sued or challenged because if the Green Energy Act overrides it, it overrides it. You can send a message to the government like these other municipalities. It’s really easy to say we can’t do anything because the Green Energy Act overrides it but we are the citizens and maybe some of you people will be living among turbines real soon,” he said.
Tuckersmith Coun. Les Falconer said he spoke of Mitchell in December and she didn’t mention that the municipality had any leeway with the setbacks between turbines and houses.
Ryan reminded the councillors that all of them stood up at all-candidates’ meetings in the last municipal election and said they wouldn’t support wind turbines until an independent health study had been done and would represent rural Ontario.
“Right now, there’s not a lot going on and we have to do something because this is moving ahead,” said Ryan.
Siemon asked that the solicitor be consulted about putting a bylaw in place asking for a 2,000-metre setback.
“If there’s a change in government, that might do us some good in light of what Carol Mitchell said,” he said.
Grey Coun. Alvin McLellan told the HEAT members that councillors are also frustrated by the whole process and are doing the best they can.
“We have a lot of responsibility on our heads. Trust me – I don’t want to see a wind turbine built next to your house anymore than I want to see one built next to my house. We trying to balance challenging it at court without breaking the bank. We’re trying not to make any mistakes as we move forward,” he said.
At the request of Tuckersmith Coun. Larry McGrath, the ACW bylaw will be on Huron East’s agenda at the next meeting.