By Danielle VandenBrink/QMI Agency, The Napanee Guide
A group of Amherst Island residents rallied outside of a public meeting in Bath on Wednesday, opposing the construction of a 33-turbine wind farm. Protesters held up signs and made their concerns heard as residents of the island and neighbouring Loyalist Township attended the second of two open houses intended to address concerns about the large-scale energy project.
During the meeting, developer Algonquin Power unveiled the proposed sites for the turbines, which will span the length of the island if the project is approved by the provincial government.
The developer received a contract from the Ontario Power Authority’s Feed-in Tariff program in February, and is expected to submit an application for the project next summer. Construction could begin in January 2013.
But residents protesting the wind farm Wednesday said they are confident they will be able to stop the project before then.
Concerns about noise pollution, destruction of wildlife, including migratory birds, and adverse health effects are driving the residents’ opposition.
Landowner Marc Raymond said residents are also concerned about development during the construction of the wind farm, including building roads and widening existing roads on the island to accommodate larger vehicles.
Raymond said he fears the turbines will also put many bird species at risk, including the Boreal Owl, which migrate to the east end of the island called “owl woods.”
Although more than 30 residents protested the project outside of the open house, inside many residents showed their support for the wind farm.
Amherst Island resident Eric Welbanks has signed a contract with Algonquin Power and will have a turbine constructed on his land if the plan goes ahead.
Welbanks is part of Citizens of Amherst Island for Renewable Energy, a group of residents supporting the project.
“We have zero interest in a public debate,” he said. “I love the community and have a great deal of respect for the others, but we have no intention of getting into a debate.”
Close to 20 staff answered residents’ questions during the meeting, including where the turbines will be located, the potential impact on the environment and plans for construction.
Jeff Norman, vice-president at Algonquin Power, said the public meeting was an opportunity for residents to voice their concerns.
“We need public input,” Norman said. “This is a meaningful dialogue and we really value the input we receive from it.”
The final public meeting will be held in June, when the developer is expected to release reports that address environmental impact, construction plans, natural heritage and other details.