With wind farm decision expected Friday, Port au Port residents are divided
The benefits are clear but concerns remain, says mayor of Cape St. George
A decision on releasing a proposed wind-energy project for the Port au Port Peninsula from environmental assessment is looming, with Environment Minister Bernard Davis expected to deliver an update Friday.
Residents on the peninsula raised concerns almost immediately when the proposal — to place 164 wind turbines throughout the area, along with a green hydrogen and ammonia plant in nearby Stephenville — was announced.
On Wednesday, with the decision imminent, Cape St. Goerge Mayor Stella Cornect said her community is divided on the project.
"There's a lot of negative comments. A lot.[But] there are some for [the project]," said Cornect.
A committee of 18 people, made up of town councillors from the four municipalities in the region and representatives from the area's 11 local service districts, is tasked with keeping residents informed and taking concerns directly to the provincial government and World Energy GH2, the umbrella company of four partners behind the proposal.
Cornect said there are concerns about noise from the turbines but added it didn't appear to be an issue with a wind farm built eight years ago in Haldimand County, south of Hamilton, Ont., visited by some members of the committee.
"It was really no concern and these wind turbines we saw were right on the people's land," she said.
"We walked right up to the turbines, we were right there by them. There was birds flying around.… We didn't see at the time any negative impacts."
Turbines proposed for the Port au Port Peninsula can be no closer to any building than one kilometre, said John Risley, chairman and chief executive officer of CFFI Ventures — part of the group behind World Energy GH2 — in a public meeting with residents in early July.
Most of the opposition comes from those wanting to protect the environment, said Cornect. New roadways will be needed during the construction phase if it goes ahead.
Cornect said the regional committee has asked Davis to delay Friday's decision and want a "very detailed" environmental study if the project is approved.
Keeping an open mind
Jasen Benwah, chief of the Benoit First Nation and Port au Port ward councillor for Qalipu First Nation, said he first heard about the project in June when the proposal was announced because prior discussions involved offshore wind turbines.
He said his jaw dropped when he saw the map of where the proposed turbines would be.
"The first impression was shock, for sure," he said.
But Benwah said he has been keeping an open mind. He was part of the group that travelled to Ontario to see first-hand how large-scale wind farms operate.
He said he's remaining neutral to the idea of a similar project ending up near his home.
"Is it the same as the situation here? No. It's not. We saw a lot of windmills, they were on farmers' land, they were all spinning. I didn't hear any noise and they all spin slowly," he said.
"I saw tons of birds below the windmills going around, flying out of the grass and I saw higher birds flying, which I assume are birds of prey, that worked deliberately around the blades. Farmers' fields are neat and tidy.… I was looking for issues when I went there. I didn't see any issues in that regard."
Benwah said it's difficult to compare the Ontario project with the proposal for the Port au Port Peninsula because nobody knows how it will look yet. He said he was told by officials during the Ontario trip that residents of that area had similar concerns early on to those on Newfoundland's west coast.
"The mayor said that in the last five years not one complaint from the windmill farm came on his desk," said Benwah.
Cornect said the Haldimand County area is reaping economic benefits, something she said her community and surrounding communities desperately need.
She wants residents to keep an open mind to the idea.
"We have a dying community, so is this company going to come in, are we going to get great benefits, are we going to get people working? We can't close our minds to the industry," she said.
"We definitely need a boost. We have only so much money to go around. All our communities need money."
With files from Troy Turner
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