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Tremendous step backwards for environmental protection, citizens group says

Water supply, wildlife and noise pollution were concerns in the community fight against an unwanted wind power project [Photo: Pexels]

May 15, 2020

The decision released Wednesday by the Ontario Superior Court which overturned the Ontario environment minister’s move to revoke approval of a large wind power project has shocked the communities that have been fighting for five years to stop the wind “farm” due to concerns about the environment and wildlife.

While the urban media, at the urging of the wind power lobby, power developer, the NDP and Green political parties and so-called environmental organizations are happy about the court decision, those familiar with the power project and the evidence presented against it are not.

The court decision does not merely overturn the minister’s revocation of the project approval, it declares the minister had no authority to act and in essence, writes new public policy over development decisions and the environment. Referencing the “Ford government” with obvious distaste and a transparently one-dimensional view of the government’s approach to environmental issues, columnists failed to recognize what the court has really done.

Concerned Citizens of North Stormont chair Margaret Benke said the decision leaves the “entire Province highly vulnerable. The Minister and Ministry of the Environment with all their resources can’t protect our natural resources and species at risk. The only protection against these kinds of mistakes by the ERT [the quasi-judicial body that hears appeals of approvals] is now in the hands of private citizens,” Benke said.

“We will be asking the Court of Appeal to reconsider what seems to be a tremendous step backwards for environmental protection in Ontario.”

The community group appealed the approval for the project on the grounds of risk of harm to wildlife, the environment specifically the aquifer which is noted as “highly vulnerable” by the Ontario government, and the risk to human health from the wind turbines. The appeal was dismissed; the group then filed a direct appeal with the minister, noting errors in the Environmental Review Tribunal decision. The minister revoked the approval last December saying the risk to endangered bats was significant, he wanted to “exercise precaution” and in any event, Ontario does not need the electrical power from the wind project.

While media reports claim the Ford government dislikes renewable energy projects, the truth is, the Wynne government halted all procurement in 2016 saying the province had enough electricity, and 90 percent of the power suppl was emissions-free. The Wynne government actually cancelled several wind power projects, but gave contracts to five that year, including Nation Rise.

The power developer insists the community did not bring forward bats in their appeal, which is not correct: written submissions were presented to the Tribunal but then, the wind power developer filed a last-minute report which gave the community group’s expert witness no time to review it, so little of his evidence was presented.

The Concerned Citizens group has spent over $100,000 on legal fees; in Wednesday’s decision they were punished for their work to protect the community and environment by having to pay the power developer $60,000 in costs.

The office of the Attorney General or the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks have not made a comment on whether they will appeal the decision, which clearly has an impact on ministerial authority.