LITTLE CURRENT—Heated debate led to an argument at last week’s council meeting between Mayor Joe Chapman and Councillor Al MacNevin over an agenda item to discuss building permit fees. The item ‘building permit fees’ was added as No. 6 under the ‘new business’ section of the council meeting agenda after the mayor had made a public statement at a previous meeting, stating that he wished to have another look at the fees.
Upon reviewing the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, Councillor MacNevin stated that he did not feel that council should rediscuss the issue of building permit fees for industrial wind turbines and put forward a motion to remove the item from the agenda. He brought up an email council had received from Northland Power Inc. (NPI) and McLean Wind Farm project manager Rick Martin in regards to the proposed topic and his confusion at the issue being rediscussed and on such short notice.
The mayor responded that the item had been put on the agenda to discuss building permit fees in general, and not specifically the municipal rate for industrial wind turbines.
Despite this explanation, Councillor Paul Skippen seconded Councillor MacNevin’s motion, stating that he did want to discuss the issue again.
“I think that we asked Dave (CAO Dave Williamson) what it would be worth to do this job (establish wind turbine permit rates),” said Councillor Skippen. “We asked the building inspector what it would cost too. We discussed it several times, but it just seems like it goes on and on, Joe.”
“This is a group that just sat here and voted to raise their salaries 20 percent and now I see the same people at this table not even willing to look at raising building permit rates,” responded Mayor Chapman.
“This is a group that’s looking at raising taxes six percent on widows, orphans and people on fixed incomes and I see people here willing to bend over backwards to protect a large company. Let’s have a recorded vote on this because I think this is shameful, shameful that one email comes in from Rick Martin of Northland Power and you people are afraid to even have a debate over this issue. Who’s pulling the strings here?
Who’s running this council? Are you working for the people of his community? Are you afraid of debate? Afraid of open discussion? Or are you afraid to put this at everyone but the windmill companies?”
The mayor said that last year, council looked at building fees, so he could not understand why members of council were not willing to revisit them again this year.
“Because someone told you not to do it?” questioned Mayor Chapman raising his voice. “Is that what’s going on here? We didn’t contact Sheppard Brothers Construction or Taylor and Son Construction. Those guys are paying more for a building permit than a windmill. How is that fair at all?”
The mayor then questioned Councillor Mac-Nevin, “Why are you protecting the wind industry? he said. “Let’s talk about the expenses for our building department. Why would you shut down debate?”
“The reason I’m bringing the motion to the floor is not because of some email,” explained Councillor Mac-Nevin. “It’s because of your announcement last week.”
“Why are you afraid of looking at a fee structure,” questioned the mayor. “We raise the rates for kids to play minor hockey and we look at raising the rates for boats at the town dock? Why are you so afraid to talk about the windmill building permit issue when we are out there raising everything else in our community?”
Councillor MacNevin took a moment before responding and then said, “Is this the hallmark of your term that you talked about at the beginning…” before being cut off by the mayor who said, “Yes. Fairness and open debate.”
The mayor asked Councillor MacNevin why he would want to shut down debate, “to protect one industry?”
“We have had a debate over this issue three times,” responded Councillor Mac-Nevin. “I’m saying we don’t need to do it right now. I don’t want to do it every year. Every time we talk about this, you say ‘over your dead body this project will go forward’ or that ‘you will do everything in your power to stop it.”
Councillor MacNevin said he felt the mayor was not showing him respect with regards to his opinion and said, “Is this the respect you were talking about?”
“When you try to shut down an issue, that’s lacking in respect,” responded that mayor. “Respect for the community. We have to go over what are costs are for the building department for the year before we decide that we are not going to revisit the fee structure.”
The mayor then indicated that perhaps Councillor MacNevin was confused or did not have all the facts pertaining to the debate.
“Let’s ask council to make the decision about whether or not I know the facts,” said Councillor MacNevin. “I don’t need your advice or your opinion to make this decision. I put it on the floor to not revisit this decision.”
Councillor Marcel Gauthier entered into the discussion saying, “This issue has been going on for some time and we have even talked about it with this council and past councils.”
He added, “When the rates were set there was investigative work done by our CAO and we didn’t just arbitrarily set the rates for windmills.”
Councillor Gauthier asked if the CAO could give the history on how council established the amount for building permits for wind turbines.
“In terms of building permits established for windmills in this municipality, the fee was predicated on staff going back and ascertaining the costs of providing the direct service, specifically looking at a turbine,” explained Mr. Williamson. “What we did to calculate the time it would take us to review the plan, the time it would take to actually conduct the inspections, to deal with the contractors, and to provide
the overall service, treating wind turbines as a unique activity and unique of all other industrial types of activity. In doing this we ascertained that it would cost approximately $2,000 in turns of manpower, labour, and support per turbine to provide that service.”
He then explained that that rate was forwarded to council that made the decision to adopt the proposed rate.
Councillor Gauthier thanked Mr. Williamson for providing council and the public with the history of the permit rate and went on to discuss his confusion over the issue. “You have mentioned a few times that we are catering to Northland,” said Councillor Gauthier to the mayor. “I received the email, but this has nothing to do with Northland but in your initial words you said that councillors were ‘bending to their wishes’ and I don’t like you implying that.”
Councillor Mike Erskine spoke next, indicating that he was perplexed over the entire discussion.
“I’m confused,” he said. “My understanding is that we were going to be discussing setting an industrial rate. Then I started getting emails from both sides of the debate and I was a little confused. We are making a decision to not discuss the item based on that it’s aboutthe windmills, but three times the mayor has been asked if the item was placed on the agenda to talk about windmills specifically and three time his answer has been ‘no.’ I’d like to know what the heck going on?”
Councillor Dawn Orr told council that she did not feel comfortable discussing industrial building permits or wind building permits without further information.
“I don’t feel that there is anything in our packages to prepare us to discuss the topic this evening,” she stated.“I need more information before I would be ready to discuss anything.”
The mayor reiterated that what he originally wanted to talk about was the building department for the municipality and the fact that the inspector needs a town vehicle and a proper office and questioned where this money was going to come from.
“We need to look at improving this department and how we are going to do this,” said the mayor. “It seems that the issue has warped into windmills. If the windmill building permit comes up during discussing fee structure, sure I’m not going to say that we should give them the big kiss that you guys gave them, but that’s only one part of the building fee issue. To shut down the debate because some councillors are afraid to get into the wind issue, I don’t feel is good democracy.”
The mayor suggested that council move to defer the topic until the next meeting.Councillor MacNevin questioned whether the mayor’s suggestion was to move the entire issue or just discussing the chief building officer’s vehicle.
“You’re pretending that that the wind issue wasn’t the basis when you added it to the agenda,” said Councillor MacNevin to the mayor.
“The real issue here is political. I think it’s hogwash that this is about a vehicle for the chief building official. I’m just speaking for myself, but I find it irresponsible to go back over the same issue three times. Every time this happens,it stirs up a big pot of emotion in the community and puts a further wedge in the project not moving forward.”
The mayor told Councillor MacNevin that he thought his comments were, “a bit of a stretch.”
“I think you speak for the guy that sent you the email, as opposed to the community,” added the mayor.
“We get emails from all kinds of people,” replied Councillor MacNevin. “I got one from MCSEA (Manitoulin Coalition for Safe Energy Alternatives) as well so I don’t like you implying that I’m in anyone’s pocket just because I got an email.”
“I respectfully disagree with my colleague,” interjected Councillor Erskin, addressing council. “We are in the middle of a budget process and we have an obligation to look at everything that has to do with the budget of this town and I’m not going to get derailed from this just because one side or the other in the windmill debate doesn’t want to discuss it or because councillors don’t want to revisit the issue.”
The mayor told Councillor MacNevin, “the community is watching, the community is listening” and challenged the councillor to run against him in the next municipal election.
Before Councillor Mac-Nevin council respond,Councillor Bill Koehler asked that the issue be moved along. “Can we maybe get along with what we are going to do?” asked Councillor Koehler. “I have better things to do then to sit here and listen to people argue.”
Council moved forward with the motion on the table to amend the agenda, removing item eight, No. 6, “that being building permit fees.” Council voted in favour of the motion,removing the item from the agenda for debate after almost 30 minutes of debate over even discussing the issue. Councillors Erskine, Koehler, Christina Jones and the mayor opposed the motion, but were defeated by Councillors Gauthier,
MacNevin, Orr, Skippen,and Bruce Wood.
Mr. Williamson explained after the meeting that the issue passed dealt specifically with rumoring discussion of building permits from that meeting’s agenda, however it could be raised again by any of the councillors in the future.
Both sides of debate respond to wind farm assessment
An item to note is Bud Wilkin has about seven turbines in this project. A disclaimer not noted in this article.
by Robin Burridge, Monitoulin Expositor
LITTLE CURRENT—Community members both for and against wind energy have begun reviewing and preparing letters to submit to the Ministry of Environment (MOE) as part of the Northland Power (NPI) McLean’s wind farm renewable energy assessment (REA), which was posted on November 24 as part of a 60-day public review and comment period.
Last week The Expositor spoke with the McLean’s Mountain wind farm project manager, Rick Martin, who was excited for the project to be entering its next phase. “It has been a long time in the making and something we have been working on for the last eight years,” said Mr. Martin. “It’s important for the public, regardless of opinion, to take the time to view the information and comment.”
He stated that he hopes those who read the final reports will see all the careful work that NPI has done to ensure the environmental, ecological,aquatic and sociological integrity of the project. The Expositor contacted various community members who have expressed public opioion regarding the project to see how they feel about the REA public review period and if they will be submitting comments.
Ray Beaudry, a spokesperson for the Manitoulin Coalition for Safe Energy Alternatives (MCSEA), said his organization has been reviewing the REA documents since they were posted online and discussing several issues they have found so far.
“A lot of it is propaganda,” stated Ms. Beaudry. “We have found several flaws that we are discussing and will be addressing.”
Mr. Beaudry said one of the issues that MCSEA has concerns about is a protected species permit the project would require to collect the bodies of eagles and hawks killed by the turbines.
“We discovered that they are actually allowed to have 18 eagles and hawks die per year before the government will intervene,” Mr. Beaudry stated. “This is just one example.”
“The big thing for us is that MCSEA and the opposition to the project is growing and this public review period will show the MOE just how much opposition really exists in the community,” added Mr. Beaudry. “MCSEA has already sent some comments in, but we are still reviewing and discussing. We will be submitting comments as a whole, as well as individuals submitting their own concerns and comments.”
He said it is MCSEA’s hope that after the public review session, the MOE will not approve the project due to “environmental and cultural endangerment to Manitoulin.”
Rosemary Wakegijig, a member of MCSEA and Wikwemikong elder said she too might be submitting comments during the pubic review and comment period.
Ms. Wakegijig told The Expositor that she thought it was unfair the REA documents were only available online and at the Northeast Town Public Library.
She explained that her group of Wikwemikong elders and community members has already submitted an ‘antiwind on Manitoulin’ petition to the MOE with over 545 signatures.
“We have a right to be concerned and to be skeptical,” said Ms. Wakegijig. “And we have a right to protect our mother earth.”
Bud Wilkin of Little Current said his son might be submitting comments as part of the REA public review period. “It (the McLean’s wind farm) has been a long time in the making,” said Mr. Wilkin. “It has had a lot of opposition,but I would like to see it go forward for the community.”
Mr. Wilkin explained that he had been part of an economic development committee representing Island farmers, and has heavily explored wind energy prior to formulating an opinion. He said he went “down south and spoke with landowners and neighbours who were directly impacted by wind farms and did a lot of research.”
“After all my work I came to the conclusion that they were well received by most community members and landowners where I spoke with people and their research shows that they are environmentally friendly,” added Mr. Wilkin. “Some people are vocal about the way the turbines look, but that is in the eye of the beholder. I think that McLean’s Mountain is a good location, set back from town, but this is all just my opinion. I’ve been in favour of the project since it started.”
Mr. Wilkin concluded that he does not have a computer, but that his son might be submitting comments.
“I am hoping that others will as well, “ said Mr. Wilkin. “Again, I think it is a good thing for our community.”
The REA will be available online and at the Northeast Town Public Library until Monday, January 23. REA comments are to be submitted the senior project evaluator with the MOE, Kristina Rudzki, at the Environmental Approvals Branch, 2 St. Clair Avenue West, Floor 12A, Toronto, Ontario, M4L 1L5, or on the ministry website at www.ebr.gov.on.ca, project reference number, 011-5195.