NextEra: all set to bully another Ontario community?
NextEra is heading into a confrontation with another municipality after it has constructed a staging area for its turbine projects in southwestern Ontario in Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh (ACW) Township without bothering to check whether the site was properly zoned for this use.
Borea Construction, a contractor working for NextEra has arranged with the owner of the former gravel pit site in ACW for this purpose. The township thought that the company was working for K2 the wind turbine project currently under appeal at an ERT so did not attempt to stop the project but when they found it was another wind company, they advised the company that a zoning change was required to use the site for storing wind turbine parts.
A zoning change requires public notification and a public meeting which is set for September 17. Unfortunately work on the site is almost complete and the turbine parts are scheduled to start arriving on September 16. Undeterred by a municipal planning requirement, NextEra’s contractor is asking the township for temporary permission to place the turbine parts at the site.
The municipal staff has drafted a report recommending that the Council not approve this request with the recommendation supported by the municipal solicitor setting the stage for a confrontation with NextEra. The site is zoned for gravel extraction with part of it zoned Natural Environment due to its position on the edge of a river that flows into Lake Huron about five miles to the west. Neither of these zoning types allow for the storage of turbine parts. Work completed to date, which includes installation of a new perimeter fence, leveling the farm-sized site and installing security lighting, is consistent with gravel extraction activities so the municipality has not been able to stop the work.
From a municipal planning perspective, there are a lot of reasons why an application to change zoning should be turned down. The entrance to the site is at the top of a blind hill. The use will involve use of large trucks turning into and out of the site onto a narrow road with limited visibility. The road to the site is not designed for a high volume of truck traffic as it is a narrow township road paved using tar and chip. A county road is located about 1 mile to the east but to reach it, trucks would have to pass through the village of Dungannon where commercial buildings on the corner limit the turning radius onto the road.
Run-off from a site of this size will be a major issue but there did not seem to be any provision in the work done to date for storm water management systems. Run off from a construction site could also include contaminants which need to be kept out of the adjacent river which is known for sport fishing both near this site and where it reaches Lake Huron at Port Albert. Addressing the run-off would require a substantial reworking of the site elevations and creation of large areas to store run-off.
The matter comes before ACW Council on Tuesday night. At the same meeting, the local anti-wind group is booked as a delegation to recommend that the Council adopt the Fire Prevention by-law initiated by Grey Highlands. As the Township has had experience with a turbine fire, it is expected that the Council will be receptive to this initiative.
The prospects for NextEra look bleaker. Allowing the use to proceed on a temporary basis would raise all sorts of legal issues for the municipality. Even the zoning decision will not be speedy. Even if it is approved, there is a 20-day appeal period during which anyone who attended the meeting can appeal the decision to the Ontario Municipal Board for a fee of $125. Any approval would also likely include conditions to address storm water management and improving visibility at the entrance point to the road, if not improving the whole road from Highway 21.
Looks like this could be a costly mistake for NextEra. The municipality cannot be sued but I would not want to be their contractor as this could delay construction on a number of projects unless they can arrange for an alternate staging area very quickly.
The work has generated another highly trained Green Energy Job for the Liberals as there is already a security guard posted on the empty site. He looked very bored sitting on the steps of the office when I snapped the picture.
The meeting is on Tuesday September 3 at the Township office at 82133 Council Line, RR5, Goderich beginning at 7:30 pm.