WWF asks Ombudsman to investigate municipality

Jan 19 • Feature Story, Local NewsNo Comments on WWF asks Ombudsman to investigate municipality

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The grass roots group Water Wells First (WWF) today filed a complaint with Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube, asking him to investigate Chatham-Kent Mayor Randy Hope and council for “negligence in performing their duties of office” in regards to issues with the North Kent Wind Farm project north of Chatham.

This past fall, the municipality requested and received party status in an Environmental Review Tribunal appeal hearing regarding conditions of the provincial permit allowing North Kent Wind Farm to build industrial wind turbines in Chatham-Kent.

During the hearing, WWF spokesperson Kevin Jakubec said he provided detailed information on the bedrock under the North Kent water aquifer that supplies wells, which is comprised of Kettle Point black shale known to contain heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, lead and uranium.

North Kent Wind provided its own report, prepared by Golder and Associates, which said there was little risk to the aquifer and contamination of surrounding wells. Mayor Randy Hope and municipal legal counsel John Norton publically stated during the mediation process that the Golder report was sufficient evidence that the wells were not at risk from pile driving into the bedrock.

Jakubec maintains that the Golder report was commissioned by the wind farm company and contains flawed information, and said the municipality was negligent in not requesting an independent review of the report to ensure its validity.

“At no time to the present did the mayor and council request an independent review by an expert geologist to the accuracy of the statements made in the Golder report to verify the risk assessment,” Jakubec said in a statement. “Had they performed their duties of office properly, they would have discovered the Golder report is critically flawed. The bedrock described in the Golder report is not the Kettle Point black shale formation underlying Chatham-Kent.”

“Had they just done that way back in October, we believe they would not have made those statements and would have joined WWF in asking for the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change to be more proactive; they would have asked Dr. (David) Colby (Chief Medical Officer of Health) to be more proactive and not make statements that he thinks the water is safe without actually testing the water in Dover,” Jakubec added.

WWF is asking the Ombudsman to investigate and determine if the municipality’s reliance on the Golder report constitutes a conflict of interest as the municipality received money from North Kent Wind.

“They relied on a report that is in error. We believe they have a responsibility to this community; to the natural resources of this community. They state it in the 2017 capital budget, that the municipality promotes itself as being a good steward of our natural resources and yet, even after Walkerton, where they should know they have a statutory duty of care to look after source water even though they have said these are private wells, and somehow want to divorce themselves from responsibility, they do have a requirement to protect this natural resource.

“Our concern and why we’re filing a complaint with the Ombudsman is they haven’t done their proper due diligence, or a proper risk assessment and the question that really begs to be answered is this a conflict of interest? Is it because they have financial gains from these wind farm developments?” Jakubec questioned. “Again and again and again, we don’t see real leadership from Mayor Hope and we don’t see leadership from the council in general. It’s shocking, especially after Walkerton. It’s absolutely shocking.”

When contacted by The Voice, Norton said he was not aware of the complaint and had not been contacted by the office of the Ombudsman.

“If we are contacted, we will fully co-operate with any investigation and be happy to do so,” he said.

One thing Norton said people need to understand is the matter of issuing approvals for wind turbine construction falls under the jurisdiction of the province alone.

“Authority under the Planning Act was taken away from municipalities in 2009 by the Green Energy Act. We don’t have jurisdiction to approve or not approve,” Norton explained. “We are very concerned with citizens experiencing problems with their wells. We asked for and received party status during the tribunal hearing and the settlement hearing when the appeal was ended by Mr. Jakubec.”

Norton said with an absence of scientific evidence of the impact to wells from wind turbines, he is not sure what it is people think the municipality could have done.

“We have no legal jurisdiction to do anything,” Norton said. “We encourage people to bring concerns forward to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.”

Going forward, with North Kent Wind, baseline testing is being done and Norton said people should let the testing be completed so they can have recourse in the future, if there is a problem with their well.

“We want to protect the well water of our citizens, but at the same time, don’t want to stop development. There was the suggestion that the municipality withhold issuing building permits (for the turbines). Jurisdiction was taken out of the hands of the municipality – with building permits, we are obligated to issue them once the province grants approval,” Norton explained. “If we tried to withhold them, the turbine company would quickly get a court order compelling us to do so.”

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