Ontario environment minister, wind companies charged under Environmental Protection Act
Jeff Yurek speaks with journalists outside the Legislature in Toronto on Thursday, November 22, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
TORONTO -- Ontario's environment minister, government staff and three wind companies have been charged with offences under the province's Environmental Protection Act.
The charges stem from a private prosecution launched last week by Chatham-Kent, Ont., resident Christine Burke, who alleges work on several wind projects that began in 2017 contaminated her home's well water.
Burke alleges that the minister, government officials, and the companies violated the law for failing to take "reasonable care" to prevent the contamination as the wind farms were installed.
"When the pile driving and construction of the wind turbines started on our shallow aquifer our drinking water slowly turned black and is now unsafe to consume, cook with or even bathe in," she says in court documents. "This issue continues today and we are not the only family affected by this devastation."
Engie Canada, Pattern Energy Group and Samsung Renewable Energy are all also charged in relation to their work building the East Lake St. Clair Wind Farm and North Kent 1 Wind Farm.
Engie Canada and Samsung Renewable Energy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A spokesman for Pattern Energy said that company was not aware of the summons. "We are in the process of gathering additional information related to this
matter," Matt Dallas said in a statement.
A spokesman for Environment Minister Jeff Yurek says it would be inappropriate to comment because the case is before the courts.
Burke's lawyer, Eric Gillespie, says approximately 80 families have been impacted by the contamination, which he alleges occurred when deposits of black shale in the soil were disturbed during construction of the project.
"When you put up very large wind turbines that are 100 metres high, they require very large foundations," he said. "Once they started developing these projects it became clear they were interfering with the drinking water supplies for many of the residents."
Any person in the province can bring a private prosecution by appearing before a justice of the peace and swearing information under oath about an alleged violation of the law.
The justice of the peace must then determine if there are "reasonable and probable grounds" that offences may have been committed, which was the case in this instance, Gillespie said.
"The charge definitely appears to be in the public interest and that would have been the test the court would have applied in deciding to allow it to go ahead," he added.
If any of the parties are found guilty or plead guilty the penalties can include fines up to $100,000 or a period of jail time.
The allegations have not been tested and the first court date in the case will be Aug. 14. in Blenheim, Ont.