by Heather Redick, Zurich
London Free Press
Wikipedia defines a ghost town as a completely abandoned town or city. A town often becomes a ghost town because the economic activity that supported it has failed, or due to natural or human-caused disasters such as a flood, government action, uncontrolled lawlessness, or war.
Nestled in the middle of one of the best agricultural areas and one of Ontario’s most loved tourist regions, Zurich could have been looking to reap a portion of the regional economic benefits thought to be possible in the future. Now, it appears that Zurich has the potential to be a place future generations will only read about in the history books. And, for many currently making up the population, ‘going down with the ship’ may be the only option.
A few years ago the Bank of Montreal pulled out of our small town. A committee worked to the best of their ability trying to discourage the closer or to find a replacement institution at no avail. The Municipal government gave no assistance and in fact had moved their banking outside of the Municipality instead of supporting the local institution.
This, of course, had very serious effects on business, with the surrounding population now having to go elsewhere to do their banking. The added expense and inconvenience of going out of town further contributed to the severe and immediately damaging impact.
Still, villagers continued to invest in their properties and to enjoy their chosen rural lifestyle, confident that they could survive this blow.
Fast forward to 2010.
Over the past couple of years, endless and costly hours have been spent by many to try and stop the development of a natural gas storage project proposed for under and to the north of the village. A London company came to town offering lease agreements to unaware residents for a one time taxable payment of $500. A few signed, but many more did not. Possible safety issues, property depreciation, stigma associated with industrialization, warranted concerns about the effect on the deep well water system; inconvenience; noise, pollution; increased truck traffic, and more, caused anger and fear among many residents.
At first the Municipal government avoided community pleas for help, but have recently come to agree with concerned citizens. A bylaw was passed with the hope of discouraging the development and in turn, the application to the Ontario Energy Board for licensing. Hundreds of thousands of dollars would be needed to fight for property/community rights at the same time harboring little faith in being able to deter or impact the Ontario Energy Board from approval. Why should village residents be faced with this unsolicited, unwanted, uninvited proposal and the resulting expense of time and money, not to mention, the wear and tear on mind and body?! Just the notion that such a venture could be real may be one factor effecting the now, stagnant real estate market and decreased property values.
In June of this year, it was announced that the Zurich Public School would close. This school has enjoyed near/to full enrollments for many years, produced top students and sports teams in a safe and well supervised environment, and has provided a ‘walk to school’ option for many. It has been said by many that losing the school rips the heart out of a town. This is true. Again, we are looking at a further decrease in property values and significant inconvenience to many parents who will have children bused many kms in different directions. The students will not be able to enjoy after-school activities and will spend many hours a week simply in transit. This travel time will increase dramatically with our snow-belt winter road conditions at which time safety will become an even greater issue. Parents will be subjected to added worry as the wind picks up speed off of Lake Huron!
Instead of providing school boards with the funding required to keep good schools in operation, the Provincial government has seen fit to spend millions to educate a hand-full of foreign students, those from parents who do not pay Ontario taxes and may never become part of the Canadian population. How can out-of-country students be more important than our own?! And, why is “my” money being used for this?! And, what consideration was given to the devastating effect that school closures have for local residents, businesses and any future growth and development. None, because we are only one small town, insignificant to the Provincial government’s urban plan.
And now, to add insult to injury, the Ontario Government has decided that hundreds of extremely costly and inefficient industrial wind turbines should be installed within 550m of our back, side and front doors — an insufficient set-back from residences for these monster 492 foot towers. This is far less distance than that set by other world governments with many years of experience with wind power. The World Health Organization has declared an absolute minimum of 2 km be respected. The vibra sound, sonic vibration, ice build-up and subsequent capacity of the blades to fling this ice for a great distance, flicker-effect and for some, the unsightly appearance, make locating these giants so close to homes, great cause for concern. Besides the health issues, safety issues, and discomfort, properties WILL depreciate. Even if no issues were to exist, the stigma or perceived problems are enough to discourage buyers and cause plummeting property values.
The Ontario Government has taken away the right of the people and of the municipal government elected to do what they know and feel is best for their area of the Province.
The Provincial Government’s discrimination against rural Ontario is shocking. The Municipal set-back bylaws passed by council “representing the people” have been rejected and over-ruled. No consideration for the opinions of those most directly involved are being recognized or considered. This kind of measure is not only scarey but should be an alert to all that the system is broken. Democracy is broken. Section 2 of the Green Energy Act has been violated. (“This Act shall be administered in a manner that promotes community consultation.”). Our government has failed to comply with their own enactment. The sense of ‘discrimination’ is justified when you understand that the Provincial Government would not consider over-ruling bylaws created to protect home owners and residents in the city of Toronto.
Our rural area does care about ‘green’ initiatives, but in this case, most of the opposition to the wind industrial site projects are concerns about lack of research into this subject. If the government were to take a breath, allow time for adequate research, perhaps there would be no fear, or maybe, there would be cause for more. The very serious allegations of negative and severe health effects proclaimed by now MANY of those subjected to wind turbine installations has been met with name calling instead of compassion and research by supposed adult members of the Provincial legislature.
The installation of hundreds of industrial wind turbines is probably the most serious of issues to ever be realized by our region, our village –one that is going to change this entire area, visually, physically, environmentally, economically, sociologically, ecologically, for ever and ever.
As these installation projects move forward, homes will be unsaleable. The effects on surrounding land usage and change from agricultural to industrial along with financial incentive provided to farmers for “wind” instead of “crops” will change the entire rural landscape.
Zurich will have little chance of gleaming any dollars from the now strong, near-by tourism industry once the offshore installations clutter the sought-after lake sunsets. The increased school bus routes will weave their way through the maze of propellers capable of firing dangerous ice formations for extended distances. But that’s OK…..cause these are Canadian kids not worthy of Government funding or consideration.
I believe the narrow minded human intervention by the Provincial government and the lack of creativity and forward planning of both the Provincial and local Municipal government will have devastating effects on the future of the village of Zurich.
Without Provincial compensation for relocation, hundreds stand to loose almost all that they have worked for. So, how do you produce a ghost town. Just ask Mr. McGuinty. “Zero Public Option + One Ill-conceived Mandate = Disaster”