By Paul Schliesmann, The Whig Standard
A Wolfe Island couple experienced a setback Wednesday in a hearing to have their property assessment lowered because of nearby wind turbines. Ed and Gail Kenney had hoped to call John Harrison, a retired Queen’s University physics teacher, as an expert witness to back their case. The Kenneys claim that they are bothered by the constant noise produced by several of the turbines at the 86-turbine wind facility and that they may be suffering ill health because of them.
Instead, the two-person Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) panel hearing the case decided Harrison’s testimony would have been too theoretical.
“What we really need is if you have any evidence as to how the (turbine) noise affects the value of your property,” said panel chair Susan Mather.
A written submission outlining Harrison’s evidence sent up a red flag for lawyer Tony Fleming, representing the Township of Frontenac Islands.
It became clear that Harrison had done no field studies to determine actual sound levels from the turbines as they directly affected the Kenney property, located on the north shore of Wolfe Island facing Simcoe Island and Kingston.
Fleming said, therefore, it was beyond the jurisdiction of the board to hear evidence disputing established government guidelines for turbine noise levels.
Mather agreed, saying: “This is of no assistance to the tribunal to determine the assessment.”
Wednesday’s proceedings were a continuation of two days of testimony from early May on Wolfe Island.
The Kenneys are representing themselves at the hearing, which was moved Wednesday to Mem – orial Hall in Kingston City Hall and will resume there today.
All of Wednesday morning was spent hearing from Gail Kenney, who described the fallout from the 27 turbines placed within 3 km of their home.
“Personally, we have experienced an interruption of our sleep pattern,” she said. “We get up in the night to close windows because we can’t sleep.”
Kenney said she and her husband both suffer tinnitus, a ringing in the ears associated with hearing loss, though she admitted the condition hasn’t been directly connected to the turbine noise they experience.
Even though the turbines may comply with the provincial noise limit of 40 decibels, she said, they should still be considered a nuisance when it comes to the enjoyment of their property and its assessment.
Kenney also noted that while a number of companies and people benefit financially from the wind farm — including owners TransAlta and the landowners who rent their properties for the turbines — they do not.
“As impacted landowners, we were neither consulted nor contacted,” said Kenney. “These parties agreed to setbacks set down in the provincial standards.”
Kenney said they have only registered one formal complaint about noise with TransAlta, in August 2009.
“We were told the noise was wind noise,” she said, explaining why they didn’t bother to call again.
“We’ve been put in a position of having to monitor the noise level which is dependent on the direction of the wind. We never know day to day what to expect. We have no way of testing the noise level for compliance.”
During cross-examination, Kenney objected to being questioned by Fleming and MPAC lawyer Shawn Douglas about her involvement in the community group Wolfe Island Residents for the Environment (WIRE).
She said she failed to see how that information could be related to their property value.
Mather and co-panel member Jacques Laflamme ruled that the information could be relevant.
Kenney went on to tell the hearing that, beginning in 2006, WIRE had attracted more than 100 members who were dedicated to releasing information on both sides of the turbine issue.
“I’m not opposed to them and I’m not for them,” she said when asked about her perception of turbines.
“I think it was an improper siting. I am opposed to 86 wind turbines being located on the island.”
Fleming asked Kenney if any of her normal day-to-day activities, such as gardening, watching TV or having conversations, were being interrupted by turbine noise.
“Does that stop us from talking? No,” she answered.
“The sound is so loud I choose not to garden in that sound. When the wind turbines are pounding, I choose not to sit outside.”
In testimony in May, the panel heard that MPAC had assessed the Kenneys’ home, prior to turbine construction, at $357,000.
Also called to testify at that time was Kingston-based real estate assessor Stephen Rayner, who did comparative studies for the previous owners of the wind farm, Canadian Renewable Energy Corporation, starting four years before construction.
Rayner told the hearing that he could find no evidence to show the turbines had caused a devaluation in Wolfe Island properties.