SCUGOG: In an about-face move late last month, Scugog councillors directed staff to halt work on an appeal regarding a solar farm proposed for a Greenbank property and instead move forward on an agreement with the developer, one day before preliminary hearings were to begin on the matter.
The decision came out of a closed session during the May 27 committees meeting, with the item added late in the prior week.
Earlier this spring, Community Services Director Don Gordon recommended to councillors that the township appeal the Solray Energy development, recently awarded approval from the MOE, after a document by the provincial Ministry of the Environment presented at the April 22 general purpose and administration committees meeting stated that appeals to the project had to be received by April 30.
Since the project falls under provincial green energy legislation, the township has no formal role in approving the project.
At the May 6 committees meeting, Mr. Gordon said that a preliminary hearing into the matter was to be held May 28, followed by a mediation process and, if warranted, a full hearing in late June.
The development, proposed for a Cragg Rd. property, has raised concerns from both township staff and neighbours over the last year. Among those concerns is the use of agricultural land for such a project, which opponents have said took advantage of a loophole in the provincial Green Energy Act that previously allowed for such developments on any lands zoned rural, including Class 1 and 2 farmland.
However, a staff report at the June 3 council meeting from Mr. Gordon stated that for the appeal to have succeeded, the township would have to meet a "very specific" test, pertaining to whether a given development 'will cause serious harm to human health or serious and irreversible harm to plant life, animal life or the natural environment,' as described by the MOE in the notice of the preliminary hearing. The report also outlines a number of conditions that Solray has agreed to with the township, including truck and construction plans as well as financial contributions, including $100,000 in the first year for capital projects in Greenbank, along with $50,000 annually for the following 19 years to be put toward environmental projects in Scugog.
Solray president Andy Keith could not be reached for comment as of press time.
Greenbank resident Keith Bacon, who lives next to the proposed solar farm property, said that he and other neighbours were surprised and upset by the sudden halt to the appeal.
"I'm not happy with how the system is working - the township has thrown up its hands," he said, adding that he and other residents opposed to the development were not prepared to appeal on their own. "We've been left hanging. It's a slap in the face - we've been doing our research and it's not fair to us."
The report states that concerns of residents, such as drainage, construction safety and impacts to property value will be addressed in plans to be presented to the township by Solray. Mr. Bacon, however, said he awaits to see just what kind of impact the facility will have on the community, adding that it has been difficult watching projects like solar farms get approval from the province while farmers are
limited by other provincial legislation, such as the Greenbelt.
"We stand to lose a lot - and we won't know how much until someone wants to sell their property," said Mr. Bacon. "They're using good agricultural land for this - they're not protecting it, they're abusing it."