May 27, 2009
A public meeting about proposed wind turbines in Grey Highlands was briefly interrupted when a group of local landowners staged a protest and then began asking pointed questions of company officials.
AIM PowerGeneration, a wind energy development company that plans to build 18 wind turbines in Grey Highlands and nearby Melancthon Township, called Monday’s meeting to get public reaction to a visual impact assessment, which was required as part of the planning process for the project.
About a dozen protesters, led by area resident Lorrie Gillis, who is with the group Preserve Grey Highlands, held an information picket on Grey Rd. 2 for an hour before moving inside the Osprey Community Centre.
“Please direct us to the research studies which prove that GE 1.5 (megawatt) industrial wind turbines do not affect the health of residents within a two kilometre radius of the turbines,” Gillis shouted over the protests of company spokesman Jim Wilgar, who threatened to shut down the meeting if the protesters continued to ask questions not related to the subject visual assessment.
“I tell you right now the meeting will be shut down unless we get away from this type of dialogue,” said Wilgar.
He didn’t discount the importance of the protesters’ concerns, but noted they would be dealt with during a public meeting later this year when the municipality considers a request for an official plan amendment and zoning change for the turbines.
“My property value is going down by potentially 30%,” said Kevin Darling, who lives in sight of six of the the proposed turbines. “Who compensates me for that loss? I’m 50 years old. I retire in eight years. This is supposed to be my retirement home.”
The visual impact assessment was done for 11 proposed sites for wind turbines in an area south of Maxwell near Badjeros.
“I think there are a number of questions that are still in the community. There are a number of open houses to discuss these issues through the planning process . . . what we wanted tonight was very specific and that was to get feedback on the visual impact assessment,” said company spokesperson David Timm.
The choice of viewpoints used for the study are meant to represent two types of visually sensitive areas — open spaces/farmland and rural forested areas.
“The visual impact locations are taken because they are seen to be the most potentially sensitive. It’s not your farm’s vision or my farm’s vision. . . there could be an infinite number of spots from where they could take their picture . . . what they are trying to do is to identify what are seen as the most visually sensitive areas,” said Wilgar.
The study drew criticism from several residents, who complained that the views chosen were in remote areas away from homes and don’t represent what people living near the proposed wind turbines would see from their kitchen windows.
“I do not believe that the consultants from your company should be the ones to solely determine what is culturally significant in this community,” said Linda Reader. “The views are taken from one point of view and they may or may not be the best in terms of protecting other significant views. Without any input from the community how do you know? These photos make it look like there is no impact at all.”
Property owners also complained that they were not consulted about viewpoints used in the study.
“I think there needs to be more community collaboration on what is important in terms of viewscapes. The proponent has picked them and likely to their advantage to minimize the impact,” Reader said.
Harvey Lyon of Melancthon Township has been through the public planning process for two wind turbine projects in his area and said the visual assessment studies, which involve photographs with turbines added in, don’t adequately prepare people for the real thing.
“Once the turbines are built they are a surprise to the people living close by. They are unable to translate these sort of postcard views they are given in these studies into what they actually see off their back deck,” he said.
“The studies don’t give enough information to residents who live closest to the turbines and who are affected the greatest. . . they are taken too far away. To be useful they must make a sweep from the view point of these residents who live close to the turbines,” said Lyon.
Azelin Phillips lives within sight of a half dozen proposed wind turbine sites. She is concerned about the environmental effects of tonnes of concrete on a fragile environment. She noted seven major southern Ontario rivers have their headwaters in the area. She said it takes 40 truckloads of ready mix cement for each wind turbine base.
“They are not answering our questions tonight. They are pretty much saying we are not asking the right questions. They refuse to answer anything except ones about this study,” Phillips said.
Organizers of the meeting requested police to be there. Two OPP officers attended most of the two-hour meeting. They were joined by a third near the end.
“The wind people are feeling a little bit nervous tonight. They had three cops here. They were definitely nervous and you saw yourself when we asked them questions and they sort of disappeared and the meeting is going to be over early because of it,” said Anne Murray, who lives within 1.5 kilometres of a proposed turbine.
“Unfortunately we live on a hill so I think we’ll be seeing red flashing lights at night when we would rather see stars,” she added.
Company officials hope the municipality will hold the public planning meeting in early summer with a view to starting preliminary construction in August. Completion is expected by next January.
The Sun Times
27 May 2009
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