Deal with the devil?

by Bill Jackson - The Regional

September 28, 2011

Some might call it sucking and blowing, but Mayor Ken Hewitt believes that county council is making the best of a situation that it's been dealt.

He said he'd rather not have 176 wind turbines erected in Haldimand, but because the municipality has no veto power, it only makes sense to get the best deal possible.

"I'm not on board with wind turbines per se," Hewitt told reporters during a special session with the local media. "What I am is I'm a pragmatic person."

The new Community Vibrancy Fund Agreement between Haldimand and several wind developers was ratified by council on Monday and is projected to inject approximately $40 million into county coffers over 20 years for "community-related" activities. The agreement is being lauded as a one-of-a-kind opportunity for the host community, but also has its detractors, as evidenced by more than 30 delegates who came forward to speak in opposition. Only two voiced support.

Local residents were critical of the agreement that was announced last week, following a closed-door meeting. Many claimed they were given insufficient notice and did not have time to digest limited information or prepare presentations. They think the agreement essentially tells green energy developers that the county is open for business and believe that the decision has been railroaded through prior to the provincial election.

Yet Hewitt said that if a train is coming, he'd rather be on it than under it.

"We've been given a bushel of lemons. We can sit there and let them rot, or we can turn them into lemonade. The fact is we've asked for a moratorium (on wind turbines) along with other municipalities, and we've yet to receive a response."

Despite the promises of some politicians leading up to the provincial election, there are no assurances that wind and solar projects proposed for Haldimand can, or will be stopped.

If elected, the Progressive Conservative Party has promised to scrap the province's multi-billion-dollar deal with Samsung and restore municipal planning powers stripped away by the Green Energy Act. But it's unlikely such promises will have any bearing on the four projects here in Haldimand. Hewitt and CAO Don Boyle claim that they spoke with PC leader Tim Hudak and were told in no uncertain terms that all projects with a signed contract will be honoured by a PC government. The Liberals intend to move forward, status quo.

Hewitt said he ins't trying to play politics, yet some people find the timing of the Community Vibrancy Fund Agreement and a Samsung commercial featuring the mayor to be extremely suspect.

"It smells fishy," stated Tim Grech. "The perception is that you're selling us short."

Grech, who operates the Niagara Skydive Centre at the Dunnville Airport, said that if the turbines are constructed he'll have to close his business that employs 25 people. His lakefront home in Lowbanks has been up for sale for over a year and Grech said he can't find a buyer due to public concerns pertaining to wind turbines that are already in the area.

In the Samsung television commercial, Hewitt says that he's "excited to be part of Green Energy projects" that "help us to grow our local economy."

"Through Samsung we've been able to see our farmers prosper," he says.

"Samsung is a benefit to this county."

Hewitt said he will continue to fight for an alternative power production at Nanticoke OPG and he realizes that green energy jobs, in comparison, aren't as many and maybe not as good. But any jobs, even short-term contracts, are better than nothing, he contends.

Pat Morris said she doesn't believe that council has done its research on the harmful effects of wind turbines that are documented across the globe. She asked councillors for empathy and to imagine the devastation of being forced to leave their home.

"We need our council to step up and stick with us," said one man.

"Samsung doesn't need your support. We do."

Hewitt threatened to stop the meeting several times over the course of four hours after discussion in council chambers became heated. People accused councillors and the mayor of abandoning them and suggested that council should take the windfall and keep it for residents who are negatively affected by wind turbines.

"It's your jobs to protect this county and its citizens," said Ken Brownell.

"This council has sold out rural Ontario."

Numerous delegates asked council to hold off on ratifying the agreement until after the election.

Wind Concerns Ontario President John Laforet said that if the agreement between the county and wind developers is good today, it will still be good after people head to the polls on Oct. 6th.

"Ontario has a very tight election going on and it's clear the wind is one of the largest issues in the province." he said. "Signing this agreement is basically paying tribute to the Liberals, and Samsung that's backing the Liberals."

The announcement of the agreement is doing a disservice to the Progressive Conservatives, the NDP and the Greens, all of whom have various opinions that disagree with the Green Energy Act, Laforet contends.

"There's a reason why you're the only council doing this. It's an ethically bad idea."

Laforet also spoke to the large contingent of people at a Samsung open house in Cayuga last week and vows that he'll continue with the fight against the onslaught of wind turbines in Haldimand and across Ontario. He's considering a judicial review of Haldimand's new agreement and is seeking a legal opinion to see if Hewitt has been operating under conflict of interest.

Hewitt should not be directly or indirectly supporting a political party's platform or a green energy proponent while council receives money, Laforet contends. The mayor attended a golf tournament paid for by a wind developer earlier this year, with a ticket valued at $2,000, he charges.

Cayuga resident Mary Ann Pearson said that people are being bribed with their own money.

Implementing the Green Energy Act, Laforet says, will cost the average household in Haldimand $310 more for electricity, per year, by 2015.

"Two million dollars per year, per person, equates to $43.05. If Hewitt's really looking for an extra $43.05, he should do the honest thing and raise people's taxes."

A native contingent has warned Samsung representatives about development in the Haldimand Tract and urged people to stand united.

"If turbines start going up, we will be back and we will shut you down," one man said.

A crowd consisting of about 150 people cheered in solidarity, but Hewitt said he doesn't support natives stopping development and that is would be hypocritical to use their agenda that has hindered economic development in Haldimand for the past five years.

Council ratified the Community Vibrancy Agreement with a 4-1 vote.

Ward Giver Coun. Rob Shirton was the only councillor to vote against the resolution. Coun. Leroy Bartlett declared a pecuniary interest because he has a wind testing tower on his property. Coun. Fred Morison was absent, but sent a letter of support.