Transport Canada has ordered the removal of eight wind turbines near the Chatham-Kent Municipal Airport in southwestern Ontario because they exceed height restrictions for the area and could pose a risk to pilots.
Transport Canada has stated it is willing to work with the company that owns the turbines to set a practical deadline for removal, but the agency insists the turbines must eventually come down.
GDF Suez, a Houston-based company, owns the turbines, eight of a 55-turbine project. A company spokesman claims Transport Canada approved the turbines.
'We understood that [Transport Canada] had approved them.' — David Timm, GDF Suez spokesperson
"Transport Canada was informed, they were aware of the locations of the turbines, and we understood that they had approved them," David Timm said. "So we were very surprised by the letter we received from Transport Canada."
There is still some debate about who will ultimately pay for and conduct the removal.
Conservative MPP Rick Nicholls insists the taxpayers in the municipality will not be the ones footing the bill.
Timm says the company is reviewing Transport Canada's order.
In an email to CBC News, Transport Canada senior communications adviser Tina Morris said the wind turbine company is responsible for lowering or removing any impeding wind turbines.
Dave Van Kesteren, the Conservative MP for the region, says he expects to see a court battle over who's responsible for the turbines.
Van Kesteren says he's not sure why the turbines were built in the first place.
"The long and the short is, that somebody issued licences for the zoning and we'll have to find out [who]," he said. "I guess it is the city's responsibility to issue those licences. From there, we'll find out how this happened."
Chatham-Kent CAO Don Shropshire said the municipality is investigating the approval process. He said all that matters now is that Transport Canada thinks the turbines are a problem.
"It's Transport Canada's call," he said.
The current height of the wind turbines at the Chatham-Kent Municipal airport exceeds the maximum allowable height of 45 metres above ground level. They violate Federal Airport Zoning Regulations, which protect a radius of approximately four kilometres around the airport.
"On at least two occasions prior to installation of the wind turbines, Transport Canada advised the wind farm representatives that height restrictions are in effect in the area around this airport," Morris said. "It is the responsibility of the airport operator to monitor the environment around the airport and verify whether or not the height limits have been exceeded.
"In the event that they are exceeded, the airport operator may need to take appropriate action to ensure the safe operation of the airport."
Approximately 60 people attended a public meeting regarding the turbines Monday night.
"The sentiment at the meeting was clear. The community is an unwilling host," Nicholls said.
"What’s happening in Chatham is unprecedented. Nowhere in the province of Ontario has a wind turbine company been told they must take down their turbines," he said in an email to CBC Windsor.
Pilot expresses concern over turbines
Nicholls said pilots have been voicing their opposition to the turbines "for a decade."
"My No. 1 concern is the safety of citizens in my riding and anyone else who would be using the Chatham-Kent Municipal Airport," the MPP said.
Jeffrey Pyefinch, a pilot in the area for more than 20 years, says the turbines present a problem for the airport.
"There's still a lot of turbines out there in very close proximity that do still affect the procedures at the airport," he said. "It will give us a little more buffer. So it will be an improvement."
Chatham-Kent is home to more than 300 wind turbines, and is one of the most densely populated municipalities when it comes to the massive devices. Another 124 turbines were scheduled to be built this year in Chatham-Kent.
"The concern becomes, when the weather conditions are starting to deteriorate, you may be having to fly a little bit lower,".Pyefinch said. "The turbines are much harder to see, especially for a transient pilot that's unfamiliar with the area. You could end up being right up amongst the middle of them."