Tempers flare at wind turbine public meeting

by Robin Burridge

LITTLE CURRENT—In spite of rumoured protest by groups opposing wind power projects on Manitoulin, a public information gathering organized by wind turbine developer Northland Power concerning their proposal for a 24-unit wind turbine project on the McLean’s Mountain proceeded without disruption.

Northland Power held the meeting at the Legion hall in Little Current on May 18 and asked that everyone attending sign in. The room displays were arranged in a large circle, with various billboards displaying facts, figures, diagrams, photos, and newspaper articles on all aspects of the project. A large number of the Northland Power team wore identifiable nametags, ready to answer any questions.

“We simply desire to have an open forum with a friendly exchange of ideas,” said Rick Martin, of Northland Power and the project manager for the McLean’s wind farm project, in response to a question regarding the outcome of the evening.

One board displayed recent changes to the project based on public concerns and input. Northland Power revealed that they had reduced the number of wind turbines to 24, which they claim would help “reduce the visual impact, the amount of land clearing, site preparation and access road construction.”

As community members walked around, one concerned citizen commented that though there were actually fewer turbines, the turbines would now be bigger and pointed to another board which explained how the turbine height had been increased from 80m to 100m and the generator size from 1.8mw to 2.5 mw.

Several female elders from Wikwemikong sat off to one side observing the evening and showing their peaceful protest to the project.

“This is a sacred island,” explained one of the Wikwemikong elders as she fought back tears. “Our ancestors are buried here and it is a peaceful place to live.”

“If they are allowed to put these monsters up, our tourists won’t come and then what will happen to the people of the Island?” asked Mary Gaiashk, another elder.

Many individuals approached the elders and thanked them for their presence.

The majority of the evening was made up of small discussions among those in attendance and members of Northland Power, but as the evening neared its end, things became more heated.

Ray Beaudry, a member of the wind turbine opposition group Manitoulin Coalition for Safe Energy Alternatives (MCSEA) and Mr. Martin began discussing the issues of the wetlands in relation to the tower locations and where the power lines would run. The remaining community members turned their attention to the conversation as the two men passionately discussed the project. Soon Bud Wilkin, an area farmer and landowner of property leased to the McLean’s Mountain project, interrupted and began shouting at Mr. Beaudry.

“You are dividing our community,” stated Mr. Wilkin. “You’re only concerned about your hunt camp.”

“This is what projects like this do,” replied Mr. Beaudry, “I’m not dividing the community, this project is.”

Mr. Martin was careful not be become involved in the argument and asked that the two men express their concerns through writing.

None of the three plain-clothed OPP officers present came forward during the argument. However, in an email to Northland Power after the public meeting and copied to The Expositor, Mr. Beaudry made allegations that, “had MCSEA, its supporters, or public carried on in such a rant that caused all the people at the meeting to gather around your map table, I am quite sure they would have been asked to leave and be escorted out of the building by the OPP liaison team you requested to be there.”

When asked to comment on this email, Mr. Martin stated that, “Northland Power does not control or employ the OPP” and that the “OPP would have stepped forward to interject, regardless of who was involved in the incident, if it had been necessary.”

The OPP officers were in attendance due to rumours of a protest based on a notice circulated announcing a “gathering of clans.”

“The Manitoulin First Nations announcement of a gathering of clans to raise concerns over the project brought about totally unwarranted concerns with Northland Power to the OPP of a protest,” said Mr. Beaudry, in a circulated written release.

Mr. Martin claimed that they only contacted the OPP to consult on “maintaining a safe environment” due to worries after seeing on numerous websites, including windconcernontario.ca, that the MCSEA was planning a ‘meeting of the clans’ at the same time and location of the public meeting.

“We were under the impression that this ‘meeting of the clans’ would be taking place at the same time and location as our meeting which was confusing to Northland as well as to Legion staff,” said Mr. Martin.

Despite the argument, and the claims made in the aftermath, Mr. Martin said that the “evening was a success.”

“A total of 84 people attended the meeting and all but four signed in,” said Mr. Martin. “We also received fewer negative comments and received feedback that our newspaper ads were really helping answer the public’s questions.”

On Monday, Mr. Martin told The Expositor that the project will be giving $1,000,000 annually to the Northeast Town through taxes and paid labour, of which $500,000 will be going towards the land leases for the 24 wind turbine sites.

MCSEA and Mr. Beaudry, as well as Northland Power represented by Mr. Martin, are scheduled to have booths at this year’s Manitoulin Trade Fair. MCSEA will be looking to get those in attendance to sign an ongoing petition to stop the McLean’s Wind farm project, while Mr. Martin is looking to “continue to provide information and answer questions about the project.”