Amherst Island, sometimes called the jewel of Lake Ontario, is located in eastern Lake Ontario just west of Kingston and roughly 2km offshore from Bath, Ontario. It has been inhabited by settlers for centuries — and at present is the home of 400 full time residents, a mix of retired professional folk and long time farming families. We bought here in 2004 and moved here full time in 2006, leaving behind the bustle of Toronto for almost unimaginable quiet and the delight of casual wildlife encounters.
As with far too many rural communities, Amherst Island has been targeted by wind developers and is scheduled to be the home for 37 immense industrial turbines, 20% larger than the ones that tower over Wolfe Island, just to the east of us. As with all these projects, the developer secures leases on agricultural land, done in secret to maintain negotiating leverage and to keep others in the dark until its too late. Then the developer bids on a power contract. Once this is secured, the dance begins that ends with the bulldozers rolling over the community. Oh, the developers and the various government ministries like to talk about the detailed process that must be followed, and the reams of consulting reports to insure that all the right things are done. But the net of it is that implementation is guaranteed after all the process boxes are ticked off. (One might think that this is an admissions fee paid to the agencies and lawyers involved to be able to play the game.) Neither natural resource considerations nor objections of the other residents seems to do more than slow the projects down — and any inconvenient issues are brushed aside by the ever-helpful ministries.
What has seemed odd to me is that in the decades that I have been living in Ontario, there have always been signs posted for new projects that might disturb the residents with opportunities for public comment and in some cases projects were cancelled or altered due to local issues. But people were advised ahead of time and offered opportunities to object.
But not with wind projects. These are developed in secret and comments and protests by the residents at best ignored. Developers are seemingly given a pass to break whatever laws they want just to get those behemoths rammed into unwilling rural communities — to produce, it seems, even more unwanted and unaffordable power, hardly ever when it is needed. And even more egregious is the fact that the exclusionary zone around a turbine is mostly on unleased land — in effect a stealth expropriation that renders the adjoining properties undevelopable by the owner but still taxed at the same rates. A colossal waste, to be sure. And leaving behind natural and cultural wreckage that will haunt Ontario for decades if not longer.
But the real tragedy is how destructive the whole process has been to a formerly close knit and mutually supportive community. The pro-wind leasees, who get a regular stipend for their as yet unused leases, are now firmly divided from their neighbors — farmers and retirees alike. One point of view is that they should be allowed to do what they want with their land. No one really disagrees save for one small detail — the impact of these things goes far beyond the boundaries of their land. For pretty much any other activity, laws and processes are in effect that ensures the actions on ones’ land that might affect others are controlled. The wind company fairy stories are that these things are harmless and beautiful and besides — don’t you want to save the planet? But it is hard to ignore the growing body of evidence that a wind farm depresses the value of other properties around it and that some people are strongly affected by the low frequency noise they emit. And that noise is likely to affect other communities as well — I read this morning that in Australia researchers found evidence of wind turbine noise illness many kilometers away from the wind farms. So likely Bath and Amherstview will hear them too.
But more than that, a community has been torn apart and even if the turbines never come, it will take a long time for the wounds to heal. And no doubt numbers of retirees who had come to this beautiful and tranquil island will be forced to leave if the monsters go up, sacrificing a not insignificant part of their personal capital to escape. And if they stay, the inevitable rise in property taxes to maintain the public spaces consumed by the wind farms will make it more difficult — even if the flicker and noise do not bother them. The community, once as comfortable as this beautiful place, is no more. Instead there are pools of very angry and upset people.
Unless the Province has an attack of sanity, in a year or two yet another beautiful rural Ontario community will be bulldozed and covered by huge, spinning tombstones. A small number of people on the island will laugh all the way to the bank and everyone else will suffer and pay — emotionally, physically and economically though capital losses and higher costs. Acceptable collateral damage? I don’t think so… but clearly, some do. But it is a sad day when anything outside of a real war or national emergency justifies such wholesale and unjustified destruction of communities.