Bonnechere Valley council reverses wind power resolution

January 15, 2009 at 1:16 pm Leave a comment

Passed on Tuesday, motion rescinded on Friday 

The Township of Bonnechere Valley voted on Tuesday in favour of a resolution that asked the provincial government to impose a moratorium on the construction of wind turbines, and then reversed itself on Friday afternoon by voting to rescind that resolution. 

The first vote by the five-member council approved Councillor Bob Peltzer’s resolution four to one, with Mayor Zig Mintha casting the lone nay vote. Then, at a hastily convened and fully packed meeting early on Friday afternoon, council voted on a motion to rescind the resolution. Again, the vote was four to one in favour, with Peltzer voting against it. Councillors Merv Buckwald, Cairine Cybulski and Charlotte Neitzel reversed their initial support for the moratorium motion by voting in favour of rescinding it. 

In between those two votes, there was a lot of debate on the wind farm issue, much of it laden with the emotion that has come to characterize this highly divisive issue. A series of wind turbines currently are proposed for the Bonnechere Valley, as are similar projects in many municipalities along the Opeongo Line. 

Peltzer defended his resolution at Friday’s meeting, saying he was hoping through it to encourage the provincial government, in conjunction with its federal counterpart, to take a good look at the data relating in particular to concerns about health problems due to prolonged exposure to operating wind turbines. Peltzer said health is not an issue that is usually dealt with in environmental assessments and studies. 

The Ward Three councillor stressed that he is not opposed to wind turbines. Indeed, his motion called wind energy “a useful and potentially environmentally friendly method of augmenting our growing energy needs.” 

But Peltzer said the technical data in reports on wind turbine impacts is frequently beyond the expertise of municipal staff, and he wants the Ontario government to show leadership in examining the both sides of the issue and in coming up with realistic guidelines on siting turbines, dealing with any health effects and other issues. 

“Some of the issues of greatest concern to the public, such as noise, economic impact and possible medical side effects, are little understood by the engineers as well as municipal councils and staffs,” the motion said. 

“Our tendency is to be dismissive of challenges to findings that show noise levels to be within Ministry of Environment guidelines. Supposed medical concerns are generally dismissed outright. This could be a costly mistake.” 

But the Tuesday vote in favour of the resolution caused a storm of protest in the township. About 35 people, many of them landowners on whose properties the wind turbines are to be sited, as well as wind turbine opponents, crammed themselves into the township’s tiny chambers. 

Mayor Zig Mintha told the gathering that not all parties in the wind turbine controversy were at the council meeting when the resolution was passed, and that they should have had an opportunity to have their say. 

“I thought that this should have gone through committee before we touched it with a 10-foot pole,” Mintha said. “What about the landowner? What about the other interested parties?” 

Mintha said he had received many email messages from people upset at the measure. 

“I just want to make sure that I’m fair to everyone – the people who were not represented here could not speak.” 

Ward One Councillor Charlotte Neitzel, who voted in favour of Peltzer’s resolution, told the Friday meeting that she should never have agreed to the resolution. She said that councillors were not provided with a paper copy of the text; it was only read aloud at the meeting before the vote. Therefore, she could not fully digest its contents. 

“My brainpower tends to tire out” at long meetings, she added. 

Ward Four Councillor Cairine Cybulski also said she would have preferred to have had a paper copy because she usually likes to read resolutions line by line. She said that, at the time of the vote, “I felt I wanted to refrain from voting” and pointed out that she did suggest waiting before a vote was called on the resolution. 

Cybulski said she was worried that the resolution might damage the township’s relationship with the provincial energy ministry, and suggested a motion to rescind the resolution and that council “talk about it and formulate it further.” 

Ward Two councillor Merv Buckwald, who had seconded Peltzer’s resolution, conceded on Friday that he had “had a little problem with the statement ‘impose a moratorium’.” He then unleashed an attack on those people who had misinterpreted the nature of the resolution and who alleged that the township had passed a moratorium on wind turbines in Bonnechere Valley. 

Peltzer defended his resolution. 

“People of my constituency have been very concerned about this issue” and said that most such resolutions are tabled at council, not in committees, and that “there was quite a bit of debate” before the measure was passed. 

“There was no attempt by me to railroad this issue through,” he said, pointing out that it was the mayor who called for a vote on the matter at Tuesday’s meeting. 

“I’m a little perplexed by the process here. Obviously folks have had a change of heart. … All I was asking for in that resolution was that the province tell us what is safe.” He called the resolution “a very benign thing” that dealt with the concerns of those opposed to wind turbines in the township. 

“Because this is such a new project, Mr. Chairman, maybe a bit more study is needed. These things are probably going to be with us for the rest of our lives – it’s probably not a bad thing to be a little bit cautious about it.” 

In a telephone interview this week, Peltzer said he hadn’t had time to make and distribute copies of the resolution to fellow councillors before the meeting and that’s why he read it out to them. 

Cybulski proposed the motion to rescind the resolution. It was seconded by Buckwald. After it passed, Peltzer said he still feels that the province must involve itself in the assessing the impact of wind turbines. 

“What we have chosen to do is remain silent,” he told the meeting. “We still haven’t let any of the people here know in any formal way whether we’re going to take this matter beyond the Environmental Assessment. I thought we were showing a bit of leadership on this… I still think that was the way to go.” 

Mintha, however, promised that there would be a public meeting on the wind power issue. 

Peltzer also lamented the bad blood that has surfaced among township residents over the turbines. 

“This issue is becoming I think a very divisive issue,” he said. “I hear very strong and hateful comments coming on both sides of the issue. … Let’s respect each other, and focus this debate on the issue.” 

He then read a letter from constituent Nelda Markham of Lake Clear, who said she is worried about the divisions cropping up in the township over the issue. “This debate is alienating not just siblings but friends and neighbours as well,” Markham wrote. A full text of her letter appears on page nine of this issue. 

By Douglas Gloin 

Barry’s Bay This Week 

14 January 2009

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Bonnechere Valley Council receives letter from resident Bonnechere Valley Township – Failed Resolve

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