NORTH STORMONT – After years of fighting against Nation Rise’s project to develop wind turbines in the area, the group, Concerned Citizens of North Stormont lost their appeal to halt the project.

The citizen group was not able to provide sufficient evidence that coming structures would cause health problems for the people, animals, plants and the environment in the area; their appeal to the Environmental Review Tribunal was lost.

According to Margaret Benke, spokesperson for the Concerned Citizens of North Stormont, the battle to seize the wind turbine project has consistently been uphill since 2015.

“In the summer of 2015, there were community meetings,” she said, noting that the police were present.

“All three of the proponents presented to the municipality and we were not a willing host. The contractor said that the project is going through and there’s nothing we can do about it. He said that if we supported his bid, he would give the municipality a significant amount of money that I originally thought was $150,000 but others felt like it was as high as $300,000. It would have been 10 per cent of the municipal budget but he said if we did not sponsor him, the project would go through anyway and we would get nothing,” she claimed.

Benke has a family member personally affected by the wind turbines making her passion for the cause that much stronger. She described her nephew in western Ontario who was affected by a project in the Shelbourne area where she said turbines cause him to not be able to sleep or live in his home. He was then not able to sell the home either, she explained.

“He compared it to living inside a drum and there were about seven turbines within a couple kilometres of his house,” she said.

Benke anticipates that with this project going forward, approximately 2,000 people from 830 households will be negatively affected by the wind turbines within the area, while also affecting resale value.

During the tribunal however, the approval holder’s experts argued that there are yet no studies to suggest a correlation to turbines and human health issues including, “self-reported sleep disturbance or disorders, self-reported illnesses and chronic health conditions, or self-reported perceived stress and quality of life.”

The uphill battle against the turbine project continued into an attempt to find experts to prove that the wind turbines were dangerous to people’s health and safety.

“The turbines are required to be 550 meters from the centre of your house but they’re only required blade length plus 10 meters, so 80 meters from your property line. So if you’re someone who has a forest where you cut trees down, or if you have cattle that you breed, or if you walk dogs, the turbines only have to be 80 meters from your property line,” said Benke. “So, you are well within flinging distance but we couldn’t prove that it will cause serious harm. We couldn’t prove that someone would be standing there that could be injured or a truck or car that could be driving by.”

However during the tribunal, these claims were refuted by the approval holders’ expert Kenneth Little, development project manager for the approval holder. Little’s rebuttal outlined in the tribunal’s decision explains: “He described the wind turbines as technologically sophisticated, computerized machines that are monitored remotely on a continuous basis and in person on a periodic basis, and stated that the approval holder will employ proactive and preventative blade monitoring for the project. Mr. Little said this includes a combination of continuous automated monitoring and visual inspections, for example, after any event that could potentially cause damage to the blades such as high wind, potential icing events and lightning strikes. He noted that this allows the approval holder to detect abnormalities before any failure occurs.”

Despite losing this appeal, Benke and her team are not giving up the fight. After the approval, there are two options that the Concerned Citizens of North Stormont can take; one that could make Nation Rise re-evaluate their plan and another that could stop the project indefinitely.

“What we would win is a prolong of the time or the terms that the proponent would have to make,” said Benke. “There is also a statutory appeal under the Environmental Protection Act. We can go directly to the Minister of the Environment and appeal the decision based on the public’s interest that needs to be put in within 30 days of last Friday (Jan. 4).”

Benke continued, “We’ve done everything else we could do and everything else we’ve done so far has not worked. We’re just hoping for the best.”

For the approval holder, public consultations and open houses will continue within the community as the project moves forward.