Kalynn Sawyer Helmer
NORTH STORMONT – Margaret Benke is the Chairperson for the Concerned Citizens of North Stormont, a “grassroots organization,” as she puts it, fighting to stop the development of wind turbine projects in North Stormont. Since 2015 the group has been working to be heard by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) and thus far they have had little success.
When the announcement of the local wind projects came about in the summer of 2015, the group started by writing letters and petitioning to ensure that it was known there were reservations in the community. Unfortunately the narrative surrounding the issue since 2015 has been one of frustration that municipalities have no real say in the development of these wind farms.
Benke and others even went as far as Toronto to have a petition introduced to the legislature and were granted an opportunity to meet with the Minister of Environment to talk about their rights and options going forward. Benke said they were simply told they would have their chance for a say during the Environmental Review Tribunal, an answer she and her peers were not satisfied with.
Since then the local projects have continued to develop. At the beginning of 2017 the organization had to wait for the proponent (wind-farm developer) to announce its plans. They also attended the mandatory open houses to ask questions about the project. When the proponent finally published its documents for Ministry review and public comment, the concerned citizens were faced with 3,980 pages to examine. Benke explained the group had dedicated members who all helped to review the pages.
The proponent’s last open house concluded in June of 2017 and since then the final draft of the documents has been submitted. What the concerned citizens found were a number of revisions from the original. The group continued to make comments and make their concerns known until the final comment period closed on Jan. 8. Benke was told the approval process would take roughly six months.
In the meantime, along with four other like-minded organizations, the Concerned Citizens have made an application for a Judicial Review. The case was heard in court in late January and was helped by Toronto lawyer Eric Gillespie. “In our area, originally there would have been only four of the sites that would have been allowed to be used if the new guidelines were used. After their revisions [to the submitted review documents] a maximum of 10 turbines would be allowed to be put up if they were to follow the existing Canadian standard,” said Benke. At minimum, Benke said she hopes for an outcome wherein only 10 of the 33 proposed turbines will be approved. In a perfect world, she hopes for none.
Despite the continuous effort for the last three years, the Concerned Citizens’ comments have now only made an impact because of legal action. Benke said she suspects it will take some time for an outcome to reveal itself due to the election, yet the Concerned Citizens continue to make their voices heard.
To learn more about their concerns and find out ways to help, the Concerned Citizens of North Stormont is hosting an information brunch to help fundraise for future efforts, pass along information about the project and promote two petitions to be signed and presented to the legislation, the first for those whose homes are known to be affected by the noise and the second for the community as a whole.
The brunch will be held at the Finch Arena on April 8 at 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Brunch will be $10 for adults and $5 dollars for children 8 years and under.