Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek takes up wind farm hunting ban fight in region

By John Miner, The London Free Press

Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek is calling on the Ministry of Natural Resources to stop wind farm companies from instigating hunting bans in Southwestern Ontario.

He said multinational wind farm firms, often unwanted in Ontario, shouldn’t tell residents what recreational activities they can participate in.

“I see a huge problem for Southwestern Ontario,” Yurek said Thursday.

Earlier this year wind energy company Engie, formerly Suez Canada Services, sent a letter to property owners where its wind turbines stand, asking they ensure hunting doesn’t take place on their land because it could be a risk to people or property.

The company has five wind farms covering thousands of hectares.

The company said it sought the hunting ban after two incidents — one in which a wind turbine was damaged by gunfire and another where a wind farm employee was alarmed after shots were fired.

Yurek called Engie’s move to blame hunters for the vandalism unprecedented and unjustified.

“It is a lack of understanding of what hunting is about,” the Progressive Conservative MPP said.

The activity is safe, creates economic benefits for rural areas, and ensures wildlife populations are controlled, limiting roadside accidents throughout the area, he said.

Losing hunting areas to wind farms is significant because there is little Crown land in Southwestern Ontario that hunters can use, forcing them to rely on the OK of landowners to hunt, Yurek said.

Engie’s request for a hunting ban near its wind turbines has also drawn criticism from the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and Delta Waterfowl, a global duck hunting and conservation group.

The organizations have asked Engie to reconsider its position.

Meanwhile, Chatham-Kent-Essex MPP Rick Nicholls accused the company of practising a double standard by asking property owners to prohibit hunters on lands near their wind turbines.

Engie also challenged a 2014 Transport Canada ruling to dismantle eight of its turbines within airport zoning regulations at Chatham-Kent Municipal Airport, he said.

“I question is there not a double standard here,” said the Progressive Conservative critic for community safety and correctional services. “You’re worried about your few employees and yet we have pilots and passengers on a daily basis flying in and out of that airport.”

Bonnie Hiltz, government relations adviser for Engie, said that matter has been resolved by the company and Transport Canada.

“It was demonstrated that there was no safety concern at all with respect to the airport,” she said.

But Nicholls said he still doesn’t agree with Transport Canada’s decision. He said pilots have told him about issues they have had while trying to land lighter aircraft at the airport.

He also said vandals should be taking the blame for the two gunfire-related incidents instead of preventing hunters from making a living.

Nicholls said he’s asked the minister of natural resources and forestry to overrule Engie’s request