by Chantaie Allick and John Spears, Toronto Star
Plans by the Canadian Auto Workers to erect a 76-metre wind turbine in their community have residents of Port Elgin threatening to greet construction crews with a picket line. “The neighbourhood is in an uproar,” said John Mann a resident who plans on participating in Friday’s peaceful protest. “There’s a lot of opposition to it,” agrees Mayor Mike Smith. “There’s a lot of people upset.”
But Ken Lewenza, national president of the CAW, says the $2 million project has come too far to stop: Shovels could go in the ground as early as Friday.
“We’re moving ahead,” he said in an interview.
The turbine is being built on the grounds of the CAW Family Education Centre in Port Elgin, a 47-acre property that prides itself on being environmentally responsible.
But the turbine is being built under planning rules that have now been superseded.
Current rules require turbines to be at least 550 metres from a dwelling; in Port Elgin, some homes will be less than half that distance.
There are 60 to 100 homes within the 550-metre radius, according to officials in the town of Saugeen Shores, which includes Port Elgin.
While the town has no legal tools at its disposal to stop the project, the town council voted on Monday to ask the ministry of the environment to withdraw the certificate of approval for the turbine.
Lewenza said in an interview the union’s national executive board re-affirmed its commitment to proceed this week.
The project has been in the works for seven years, Lewenza said.
Union activists pushed for the centre to be as green as possible, he said. That included a desire to generate its own green energy.
Town council turned down the project initially, but the union appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board, which gave the turbine the go-ahead.
Lewenza said the union would delay the project if further information comes to light, but he’s seen nothing to change his mind so far, “and the municipality would have to absorb the cost of the delay.”
“For us to bail out now – I would use the correlation (if) you build three-quarters of your house, and then you quit building it,” he said. “It’s a significant investment over the last seven years.”
“I recognize the anxieties,” he said. “I’m getting e-mails from residents raising objections from everything from property value to unsafe conditions.”
The union hired the best experts it could find to advise it, he said, and is satisfied that it doesn’t pose a threat to residents, or to its own staff who work in the centre.
That doesn’t satisfy Mann.
“Ontario is bigger than most countries with fewer people than most countries. That’s where I just don’t get it; there are other places to put wind turbines,” said Mann.
Paul Krane, another resident, is also dumfounded.
“Residents and seniors are going to lose the values of their homes,” he said they’re scared to death for their health. People are going out and getting baseline medical checks.”
Mann said the CAW has been a wonderful neighbour until now.
“We as a community can’t understand why the CAW ignores issues related to our health and well-being.”
As mayor, Smith says the town isn’t opposed to wind turbines, but feels this one is too close to the urban fabric.
He’d like to see the CAW relocate it to property farther from the centre of population – or lease land from a willing landowner outside town.
Lewenza insists the union has no alternative sites available on its property.