Daily Archives: December 6, 2012

The Known Unknowns


Known Unknowns“There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know,” said United States Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld in a now-famous statement. “There are known unknowns; that is to say there are things that, we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.”

Monday night, Council was treated to a “known unknown” when we were asked to approve a motion* that condemned a report that at least seven of us had never seen, let alone read.
 
The report in question was written to justify erecting wind turbines near the Collingwood Airport. The motion expressed concerns about the location of some of these proposed turbines – they may lie too close to the flight paths for landing and takeoff. I have no problem with that – I share their concerns. I have no issues with wind turbines in general, and am supportive of alternate energy projects, where they do not present potential safety issues. My concern would be for the placement of specific turbines, not turbines in general.

There were several ways to present this. The airport board could have provided a copy of the reports mentioned in the motion for council to read. A single copy, placed in the council room a week before the meeting, would have sufficed. The board could have done a presentation that showed slides of the proposed turbine locations and the sections of the report considered contentious, and explained to council and the public why these locations were worrisome. The board could have written the motion to refer to the turbines without making reference to specific sections of the report, but dealing in general with concerns about safety and the turbine locations.

None of these were done. Council did not even get a written staff report explaining the issues. We never even saw a map identifying the proposed turbines. Instead, we were asked to condemn some very specific sections of a report that we never saw.

All we got were the terse minutes from an Airport Services Board that included the original recommendation and a comment that the chair of the board expressed concerns about  the turbines and had written a motion to challenge the report:

“…expressed his concerns to the recommendations provided in the Project Description Report as they do not address or acknowledge the concerns of the airport with respect to the safety of the aircraft when coming to and leaving the airport.”

There is no indication in the minutes that any of the other board members expressed similar concerns, and neither of Collingwood’s two council representatives on the board (Deputy Mayor Lloyd and Councillor Edwards) spoke about the reports when the motion was presented to council. I assume they have read them – but neither said they had done so when the motion was presented.

The Enterprise-Bulletin story notes,

Councillor Mike Edwards noted the board would not have presented a recommendation “if it had not been factual.” Councillor Keith Hull pointed out council recently approved the demolition of the Mountainview Hotel based on a staff recommendation: “We didn’t need to read the documents on how to take down the building.”

“Time is of the essence to get this to the province,” added Deputy-mayor Rick Lloyd. “This is not anti-wind turbine; this is a safety issue for the airport.”

Factual or not, I feel it dishonest to approve a motion that refers to a document that I have never seen or read. By this logic, council should be merely a rubber stamp for committees, and doing our due diligence is unnecessary. When I worked for magazines and newspapers, I would never have written a review of a film I’d never seen or a book I’d never read.

As for the Mountainview Hotel, that’s a canard: council was asked to approve the demolition, not the contract for doing so. In the same manner, we approved the construction of two fabric structures for our rec facilities – we were not asked to approve the contracts with the builder. Had we been asked to approve either contract, would it have been ethical to approve them without seeing them first?

This motion was about specific documents and specific sections within those documents, not just concerns about airport safety. It could have been written in a way to deal with the general considerations of airport safety, but it was written differently to bring forward the reports themselves.

When we were asked to approve the Official Plan or Sustainability Plan or the Active Transportation Plan, council was provided with both a copy of the documents, and received a presentation to highlight key sections in each. Why was this motion done differently?

The board chair, Charlie Tatham is quoted in the Collingwood Connection as saying on Monday night,

“We believe that this is a dangerous proposition. Here’s our chance to rub their noses in it and make sure it doesn’t go by unchallenged,”

I don’t disagree that turbines in close proximity to an airport is dangerous. However, I don’t believe it is the role of a municipal council to rub anyone’s noses in anything. The originally proposed motion (see below) was inflammatory in its language, but was toned down by staff before the meeting.

I asked for a deferral until the next meeting to give council the opportunity to review the documents were were being asked to condemn. To me, that was simply doing the due diligence I believe is my responsibility as a councillor. No one seconded my motion. Council passed the motion 8-1, approving the unknowns.

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* Here is the motion in its entirety as revised and read at the table. The sections that concerned me are in red:
Whereas it is noted in the technical guidelines for a Renewable Energy Approval that if the proponent believes that a negative environmental impact has no potential to occur, the draft project description report should include an explanation of how this determination was made;
AND WHEREAS the Project Description Report and Appendix C in particular (Stantec, May, 2012) contains virtually no reference to Collingwood Regional Airport;
AND WHEREAS the Collingwood Regional Airport Services Board and Collingwood Council express significant concerns with Section 5.65 of the Design and Operations Report (Stantec, May, 2012) with respect to the potential impact of turbines 1, 3, 4, and 8 on aircraft operations arriving and departing Collingwood Regional Airport, and the attendant negative impacts to airport operations, all as described in the Charlie Cormier report dated August 23, 2012;
BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT the Council of the Corporation of the Town of Collingwood inform the Ministry of the Environment that the documents submitted in support of the application by WPD for project approval under the Renewable Energy Act does not adequately report on the negative impacts of the proposed wind farm, and it is not in compliance with the Environmental Protection Act, the Green Energy Act, and Ontario Regulation 359/09, because the proponent has failed to carry out the assessment required by O.Reg. 359/09 of any negative environmental effects that may result from the development of a wind farm in the close proximity of the Collingwood Regional Airport, and in turn has failed to identify modifications to the proposal to reduce or remove the negative impacts.

The original motion, as proposed in the agenda and in the airport board mintures, was more confrontational, and I had also expressed concerns about the wording (noted in red, below) before the council meeting:
THAT Council of the Town of Collingwood, Township of Clearview and Town of Wasaga Beach consider the following motion:
WHEREAS it is noted in the technical guidelines for a Renewable Energy Approval that if
the proponent believes that a negative environmental impact has no potential to occur, the
draft project description report should include an explanation of how this determination was made;
AND WHEREAS the Project Description Report and Appendix C in particular (Stantec, May, 2012) contains virtually no reference to Collingwood Regional Airport;
AND WHEREAS Section 5.65 of the Design and Operations Report (Stantec, May, 2012) is fundamentally flawed, inadequate, and misleading with respect to the potential impact of
turbines 1, 3, 4, and 8 on aircraft operations arriving and departing Collingwood Regional
Airport, and the attendant negative impacts to airport operations, all as described in the
Charlie Cormier report dated August 23, 2012;
BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT the Ministry of the Environment be informed that
the Council of the Corporation of the Town of Collingwood believes that the documents
submitted in support of the application by wpd for project approval under the Renewable
Energy Act are inadequate and incomplete, and not in compliance with the Environmental
Protection Act, the Green Energy Act, and Ontario Regulation 359/09, because the
proponent has failed to carry out the assessment required by O.Reg. 359/09 of any negative environmental effects that may result from the engaging in the project upon Collingwood Regional Airport and on the social/economic wellbeing of the Georgian Triangle area, and in turn has failed to identify modifications to the proposal to reduce or remove the negative impacts.