Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wrong place for a wind farm

Here's the text of a letter I sent to John Gerretsen, Ontario's environment minister:

Dear Minister Gerretsen,

I'm writing with regard to a proposal by SouthPoint Wind of Leamington to build 715 wind turbines in Lakes Erie and St. Clair. A large number of these turbines would be installed in Pigeon Bay, on Lake Erie.

Many concerns have been raised about this proposal. Among them are fears that the construction will threaten drinking water by stirring up toxic chemicals in the lakebed. Others include the project's close proximity to Point Pelee National Park, which is already under considerable environmental stress, as well as concerns about bird and butterfly migration routes.

These are all important concerns that merit the very closest of scrutiny.

However, I would like to draw your attention to something I fear is being lost in the debate over SouthPoint's wrongheaded idea: the cultural ramifications of letting this project go ahead.

I grew up in Essex County and have spent a good part of my life studying the human history of Lake Erie. From the earliest human habitation to the present day, the lake has played a vital role in the lives of Essex County's residents. Aside from their drinking water, they count on it for their livelihoods and for recreation. It has been and remains a vital part of their identity.

Allowing an industrial-sized wind farm to be built on Pigeon Bay not only disrespects our past, but will only further sever future generations of Essex County citizens from their history. Put simply, they will not be able to gaze out over Pigeon Bay and feel the same appreciation for the important parts of their backgrounds that have played out there -- the struggles of the sailors and fishermen who have toiled on the lake for centuries, to name just one example.

Tourists, too, will lose a vital part of the human experience in Essex County. This could have severe financial implications for this important industry.

Those who favour this project are casting those who reject it as opposed to renewable power, NIMBYists who cannot handle change or worse. I ask you to look beyond this and focus on what is really at stake in this debate.

In my view, the current strong emotion that surrounds SouthPoint's proposal is not about whether one supports or opposes renewable power (I think you would be hard-pressed to find many citizens who oppose it). Rather, it is about whether it is appropriate to build an industrial facility on a shallow, highly volatile, and culturally and environmentally sensitive part of Lake Erie.

I believe your government has much to lose -- and much to gain -- in how it chooses to answer this question. Local citizens will either remember it for standing up to private interests and protecting an important natural and human resource, or they will remember it as the government that sacrificed all of this on the altar of private profit and opportunism.

I hope you will choose the former.

Chad Fraser
Author, Lake Erie Stories: Struggle and Survival on a Freshwater Ocean