Tempers flare one more time on wind turbine building fees

by Robin Burridge

LITTLE CURRENT—The discussion turned heated as Northeast Town residents invited to a public meeting last Wednesday to discuss changes to the town’s building permit fees witnessed another argument between Councillor Al MacNevin and mayor Joe Chapman which hinged, once again, on the wind turbine topic.

The public discussion was the result of several council meetings regarding proposed changes to the current building permit fees, leading to many arguments over one building permit item specifically: wind turbines.

“This discussion is long overdue,” began Mayor Joe Chapman. “If it wasn’t for the hotel permit last year, the (building inspector’s) department would have had a deficit. I’m open to all discussion that could help stimulate the economy.”

The building permit fee for industrial wind turbines was the first topic to be discussed, with Councillor Bill Koehler inquiring if wind turbines didn’t have their own rate, would they fall under an industrial rate.

Town CAO Dave Williamson responded that the rate was presently $2,000 per turbine, with a proposed rate of $3,000 being suggested.

“Prior to the specific class being created, it would have been $10 per $1,000 of construction value as that was our only rate,” explained Mr. Williamson.

One resident questioned why the rate for industrial wind turbines for the town seemed lower than other municipal rates.

“If our cost is low, then it could encourage wind companies to come here,” he said. “If we have lower rates than other municipalities, we will have to accept that we are encouraging more turbines to be built here. Do we want NEMI covered in industrial wind turbines?”

The question was raised as to how the Northeast Town’s proposed rate for wind turbines compares with other municipalities.

Mr. Williamson explained that when preparing the proposed rates, staff did extensive research on other municipal rates and concluded that, “we are running in the middle of the pack in comparison.”

Bill Martin of Honora Bay inquired, “you seem to want to raise everyone’s rates, but charge low for wind turbines.”

He also asked how the town had established the proposed rate for wind turbines.

“The fee was predicated on staff going back and ascertaining the costs of providing the direct service, specifically looking at a turbine,” responded Mr. Williamson. “What we did was 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 different from all other industrial types of activity,” he explained.

The conversation quickly turned to accusations from the mayor to councillors who had sat on council when the wind turbine building permit fee was originally established, with the mayor accusing Councillor Al MacNevin of being “the guy that made an obscene give-away to Northland Power.”

Councillor Paul Skippen, who had sat with Mr. MacNevin on that council, responded to the mayor saying, “I was on that council and we left the issue in the hands of town staff.”

“We asked staff to tell us how much it would cost for our building inspector to deal with wind turbines and they responded with $2,000,” said Councillor Skippen. “Now we’ve rediscussed the issue and are proposing to raise it to $3,000. Right or wrong, we can’t charge more than it would cost.”

Manitoulin Coalition for Safe Energy Alternatives (MCSEA) spokesperson Ray Beaudry was present and asked council, “Why aren’t people building here anymore? (referring to Mayor Chapman’s statement about the drop in building permits issued in the municipality in 2011).”

Councillor MacNevin took Mr. Beaudry’s statement as an implication that people were not building due to Northland Power’s McLean’s Mountain wind project, and stated, “I don’t know why we are talking about this, so drop it.”

Mayor Chapman became outraged, telling the councillor that he had missspoken.

“The public has had enough,” shouted the mayor. “You are out of order. Your behaviour is out of order. Leave.”

Councillor MacNevin responded that he would not leave and requested that future discussions be kept to the topic on the floor.

Discussions continued without any further outbursts, and the meeting ending with Mayor Chapman thanking the public for their input and stating that council would continue to discuss the proposed rates at its next meeting.