Citizen seeks answers in wake of solar construction

Adam Bramburger
Beaver Staff

A Stone Mills Township resident affected by the Loyalist Solar Farm is pushing council to ensure the citizens impacted by construction will be taken care of.

A line in the township’s 2019 budget, which suggested a community vibrancy fund allocation of $97,200 — representing two-thirds of a year’s operations for the 54-megawatt project near Centreville — be split in thirds to support tax-rate reduction, municipal reserves, and other community development initiatives prompted Jasmin Cameron to appear at Monday’s regular meeting.

Staff indicated the places the last third could go included physician recruitment and the installation of an electric car charging station in the Tamworth area.

“I started off angry when I saw the line basically designated the community vibrancy funding. I’m not taking issue with the places they have decided it could go, my issue was that money was going anywhere other than to meet the needs of residents,” Cameron said.

She added her concerns shifted a bit going into the delegation after talking to other residents, realizing that money is meant to benefit the township and BluEarth Renewables, the project’s developer, should be responsible to resolve construction-related issues like drainage problems, road impacts, altered sightlines, and fencing.

“There’s not clear understanding of how we’ll be holding BluEarth responsible and how we are supporting the people negatively impacted,” Cameron told council.

She asked councillors who would be responsible for working with BluEarth and, further, what council would be doing to address concerns of residents most impacted to promote healing.

Cameron told the Beaver that following a Feb. 11 public meeting to discuss the project’s impacts, the township’s former deputy clerk Roger Hogan started a list of problems that needed addressing before the project became operational. With more residents coming forward since the meeting and with Hogan leaving the municipality, she sought an update on the situation as she hadn’t heard anything.

Councillor Doug Davison said he saw three areas of concern for residents. One, issues of noise and inconvenience during the build last year that can’t be addressed now. The second was remediation, most of which would involve BluEarth. The third involves improvements moving forward.

“We need to get on this, it’s almost spring,” Davison said. “We have to know who is speaking to BluEarth and we need to reach them before BluEarth decides to leave.”

He did say vibrancy fund money placed in a reserve could address outstanding issues.

Later in the meeting, councillor Wanda Lalande made a motion to designate public works manager Jeff Thompson as the municipality’s contact to deal with BluEarth and also asked that there be a representative of the public to provide input into those negotiations.

Before council voted, deputy reeve John Wise asked whether there was already a staff person assigned to deal with the developer.  Chief administrative officer Bryan Brooks said Hogan was tasked with administrative concerns about the project, while Thompson was addressing technical issues regarding roads. Brooks said he had taken on Hogan’s files and had dialogue with BluEarth’s project manager Chelsie Dundas.

He indicated the company has been supplied with minutes from the Feb. 11 meeting as well as a draft report on the impacts from the project, ranging from ground level stories as expressed in the meting and after and high-level issues to ensure all landowners impacted are addressed. Brooks said BluEarth plans to make a deputation to council April 15 about post-construction plans. He also made a point of noting that Dundas was in attendance Monday, so she should know council is expecting a plan to replace any deficiencies before BluEarth vacates the construction areas.

Davison said he was concerned with giving Thompson the extra workload of addressing all concerns and added that since council set some of the expectations, council should also be represented.

“I believe somebody, at least, from council should be involved in that process to ensure that what we expected a year ago is what we’ve got today.”

An amended motion to include council representation carried. Shari Milligan agreed to serve as that councillor.

Cameron, who offered to provide that citizen representation alongside Tracy Asselstine — another active advocate — called the surprise resolution “an affirming step” that gave her renewed confidence landowners can move forward and not feel alone in the process.

While addressing BluEarth’s responsibilities, Cameron said she’d also like to foster a discussion with council about how it can “help mitigate the damaging impacts of the project.” For example, she said BluEarth once proposed planting two trees along the distribution line for every one cut. After the company agreed to place more power lines underground, it withdrew that commitment. Council, Cameron said, could help fill in the gap.

“We now have these huge gaps in terms of visibility and tree loss. We can’t say it’s BluEarth’s obligation to give the community those trees, but perhaps it’s something the residents might want to use the (vibrancy) funds for,” she said. “It’s imperative council consults the residents regarding this fund.”

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