Horizon Wind Inc. may have won over Thunder Bay city council, but selling their proposed wind farm to members of the Fort William First Nation could prove to be a more difficult challenge.
The First Nation held a discussion panel with company spokespeople at the Fort William First Nation Community Centre on Monday night. The message was loud and clear – “go away.”
“You’re fighting a losing battle, just get out,” one resident shouted.
More than 100 people attended the meeting along with a few Anishinabek Police Service officers. Officials with Horizon Wind planned to present a slideshow showing their proposed project, but the original agenda was eventually sidelined.
Instead, community members lined up to voice their opposition to the project. Some told stories about what the mountain meant to them while others vocalized promises to stand against Horizon no matter what.
Jordan Morriseau said he usually hunts in the fall. He believes the turbines would impact his traditional hunting grounds and cause damage to endangered species that live on and around the mountain.
The 30-year-old Fort William First Nation member is now fighting against the project for what he calls environmental and cultural reasons.
“That’s prime moose habitat up there,” Morriseau said. “We live off moose, it’s one of our main foods. The wind farm would be detrimental to our way of life.”
The company has received location approval from the city for eight turbines it wants to erect on the mountain range. The green light came after the company launched a $126-million lawsuit when city officials in October rejected the original locations of four proposed turbines. While the city eventually approved an altered plan, the project must still meet the standards set out by the province through a renewable energy approval application. The province has already rejected Horizon's REA application once.
Alex Legarde shared Morriseau’s concerns about the project. Legarde said he had questions he wanted answered and wondered if building the turbines would destroy hunting grounds. He’s concerned because hunting and trapping are his livelihood.
Shane Wells, 31, went to the microphone to speak a few times during the meeting. He said he doesn’t know much about wind turbines, but he does know his community doesn’t want them and believes the company ultimately doesn’t care about what the community wants.
“They could have put an audio recorder down and said see you all tomorrow and I`ll take that back to my boss,” Wells said. “I`ll give them the recorder of what was said. Oh they don’t like it, well just throw it away.”
Wyatt Bannon, one of the meeting’s organizers, said he’s one voice of many representing people who oppose the project.
No matter what Horizon decides, the community is prepared to stop them, he promised.
“We`ll do whatever it takes,” he said. “We will not let it happen. Anybody to even consider putting those things up in such a pristine area is ignorant to everything people have worked for. You don’t go into a watershed. That’s a no-brainer. It’s to protect the water.
“For these guys its money but for us it’s a lot more. It’s life.”
Following the meeting, officials with Horizon Wind Inc. weren’t available for comment.
But on Tuesday, Horizon Wind Inc. president and CEO Anthony Zwig officially refuted the claims made by some band members about environmental damage and destruction to traditional hunting grounds. Zwig said it appeared that many of the people attending the meeting may have been misinformed about some of the facts of the project.
“What we witnessed last night was that a number of Fort William First Nation members have been misinformed,” Zwig said in a release on Tuesday.
“People were telling us that our wind turbines are going to be located on top of Mount McKay; that we plan on draining the Loch Lomond watershed, that children will no longer be allowed to enjoy their traditional pastimes on the mountain, that we will pollute the air and cause cancers and more.
“These are absolutely false statements and we do not want to see people being falsely upset.”
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