Two days after a controversial decision by Wainfleet township council to use taxpayers’ money to fund a private company’s legal battle against wind turbines, the company behind the turbines has been ordered to halt construction on part of its development.
The order came from an environment review tribunal, which decided Thursday the renewable energy approval for two of Wainfleet Wind Energy’s five industrial wind turbines should be put on hold until the appeal by Skydive Burnaby is heard.
On Oct. 7, the Ministry of the Environment gave Wainfleet Wind Energy an REA to move forward with the project. Two weeks later, however, lawyers for Skydive Burnaby owners Mikel and Tara Pitt appealled, saying that two turbines planned to be within 1.7 km of their facility would be detrimental to their business.
In her decision Thursday, tribunal executive chair Lynda Tanaka said the motion for a stay of the renewal energy approval for the two turbines was granted until the appeal is decided. The tribunal is scheduled for three weeks in January.
“I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I’ll definitely take it as a win,” said Tara Pitt. “It wasn’t an easy road getting here, but I’m definitely happy.”
Wainfleet Mayor April Jeffs, who has continually fought against having turbines built in the township, called it step in the right direction.
“Even if it is just for the two, it’s such a positive step forward,” she said. “It’s a breath of fresh air to see the province recognize how this will affect a business in our community.”
Tom Rankin, the president of Rankin Construction, which is a partner in Wainfleet Wind Energy, said the stay isn’t much of a setback.
“At that site we have the road built, the concrete foundation is built and we had the crane up, but we weren’t going to put up the tower until the new year anyway,” he said. “We have the critical work done we wanted to do. So I’m not happy about the decision, but it’s not the end of the world.”
Jeffs, meanwhile, defended a decision Tuesday to have the township pay $40,000 of Skydive Burnaby’s legal bills.
Though it wasn’t originally on the council agenda, a procedural bylaw was waived to allow Tara Pitts to make a presentation to council requesting the money. She said the idea for the public support came from Lambton county council making a similar decision recently.
“It was time sensitive because our original understanding of what our legal fees would be and what they ended up being were two different things,” Pitts said.
Jeffs, Ald. Betty Konc and Ald. Richard Dykstra voted in favour of granting the funding while Ald. Ted Hessels voted against the idea. Ald. David Wyatt wasn’t at the meeting.
“I don’t think it’s our right to use taxpayer money,” said Hessels. “It’s not really Wainfleet’s case anymore. It’s a private thing.”
He said he’s concerned with how it might look that a decision was made Tuesday night without the public knowing it was being discussed.
“We haven’t heard from the people on which way to go. You know there’s opposition to it,” he said.
“Personally I’m against what the turbine people are doing, but I wasn’t going to use my constituents money to fight it.”
Jeffs said she knows not everyone will agree with the decision.
“I’m sure we’ll hear from people about it, but that’s fair. I stand behind it. We had to decide and I think it’s a good decision,” she said. “It’s tough because Wainfleet has a small budget and $40,000 is a lot here.”