A group of residents in Mahone Bay, N.S., say they were blindsided by the location of a new solar garden, and now they're taking the town to court for allegedly failing to consult the public on the project.
Heidi Walsh-Sampson said she found out the solar garden would be built on town-owned land beside the sewage treatment plant and adjacent to her home on Main Street when she heard a heavy machine outside her window in January.
"We heard snapping trees and we raced up there to see the beginning of the destruction on the land," Walsh-Sampson told CBC Radio's Information Morning.
She said work on the project is causing "serious drainage issues on our land, which is immediately below it on a hill."
Listen to Heidi Walsh-Sampson's full interview:
Walsh-Sampson and her neighbours filed a judicial review with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court that's expected to be heard in October. They argue the town didn't follow its own planning rules when it moved forward with the project.
"Obviously, we wouldn't be taking on the expense of a lawsuit, and neither would our neighbours, if we didn't really feel this isn't just a question of an irritant. This is impacting our land and we feel that we have been deprived of rights that we're guaranteed to be consulted," she said.
Town may expropriate land
Mahone Bay is one of three Nova Scotia towns to receive millions of dollars from the provincial and federal governments to construct solar gardens. Residents in Antigonish have also raised concerns about the location of the project in their community. The goal is to become the first communities in Canada to achieve net-zero emissions by using the clean energy of the sun to power the towns.
Mahone Bay is looking at expropriating some private land so it can cut a transmission line to the solar garden. The town's chief administrative officer sent letters to three landowners to inform them of the intention to use their land.
Mark Henneberry, one of the landowners, said the land in question is on the edge of a marsh with older growth hemlocks and pines.
He's worried about erosion and runoff into the marsh if some of the large trees on his property are chopped down.
"I don't want to get rid of my land. It's my peace of mind. It's right on the back of my vineyard, I don't want people walking through," Henneberry said. "I'm not against the solar farm, but I know there's other ways to go about this."
David Devenne, the mayor of Mahone Bay, said the town hasn't decided if it will expropriate any land. He said running the transmission lines elsewhere would be unfeasible or too expensive.
Devenne said the town has "complete and extensive" environmental safeguards for flooding and stormwater control.
"And should there be a requirement around the particular piece of property that [Mark Henneberry] is referring to, then the appropriate stormwater engineering would be done," he told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Tuesday.
Operational by 2024
The town initially planned to build the solar garden in an industrial area owned by the company RPS Composite, and Walsh-Sampson said her neighbours weren't consulted nor received advance notice when a new location was chosen.
Devenne said negotiations with the company to use the site were unsuccessful.
Listen to Mayor David Devenne's full interview:
He said decisions about the location of the solar farm were made at a council meeting and residents "would have been made aware of it had they been following the developments."
He'd like to see the solar garden up and running before the federal government's deadline of 2024.
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