Saugeen Shores Bizarre Behaviour

The Town of Saugeen Shores is in the south central part of Bruce County on the shore of Lake Huron. It is home to the beautiful communities of Southampton and Port Elgin. But their Municipal Council has passed some truly bizarre bylaws. What on earth were they thinking?

They passed a bylaw that requires wind turbines to be set back from property lines by 250 m – double its height. Farmers would always prefer to locate wind turbine as close to lot lines as possible, to prevent wind turbines and their supply roads from breaking up fields. Some developers offer leases that share the lease income with a neighbour in order to prevent the breakup of a field. A 250 m setback from lot lines is enough to basically prevent any development of commercial scale wind turbines without applying for a zoning bylaw amendment. On what basis would 250 m be justified?

It can’t be sound. Wind turbines are fairly quiet. A wind developer must get a certificate of approval from the Ministry of Environment to ensure that sound levels from their proposed development are low at point receptors (basically houses). This ensures a setback from neighbouring houses of about 400 m, depending on the model of turbine. So sound levels where people live is already protected. It can’t be sound.
It can’t be safety. There have been some opponents of a wind farm in Saugeen Shores that have made a big deal about wind turbines falling over. Yes, this has occured. Since I have been in the business, I have heard of it about 4 times in 5 years, and I am very well read on the industry. Turbines falling over is news. I would hear about it. There are 60,000 turbines installed world wide. One in 15,000 seems like a pretty low risk. Indeed, if this is the concern, shouldn’t there be a greater setback for barns required? I have heard of a few barn roofs that have blown off. And power lines? And for that matter trees? How many trees have blown over in Bruce County in the past year? It would be in the thousands. And how many people have been hurt by it? No, it can’t be safety.

Could it be that they want to ensure that development of subdivisions and cottages can occur on neighbouring properties? The official plan already prohibits this in agricultural areas. And where the official plan calls for a subdivision, or cottage development, there is a legitimate reason to be more than 250 m setback. No, it can’t be preserving land for future residential development.

So what is the reason for the rule? It is a rule that basically prevents development of wind farms without an application, and a fee, for a variance or zoning amendment. It would give Council the authority to stall any wind development they wished, for whatever reason they wished. Mayor Kraemer of Saugeen Shores is on record complaining that wind turbines should be taxed more heavily. It matters little to him that the tax burden on wind is greater than fossil or nuclear generation. Perhaps this is just a tax grab in the guise of variance application fees?
But the bylaw is illegal. The Planning Department of Bruce County, the senior government, knows this. The Provincial Policy Statement says that municipal planning must accomodate renewable energy as a matter of provincial interest.  After all, we all use power.  Just like we need to accomodate power lines, or gas pipelines. Local municipalities have varied interests to balance, and so some wind development can be affected by local decisions, but a bylaw that makes it impossible to locate a wind turbine on a 100 acre farm, and for no reason, is clearly violating the Provincial Policy.

So now, Bruce County, is taking one of their own municipalities to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), to strike down a bylaw that will clearly be found to be illegal. The lawyers will make some money, but we Bruce County taxpayers will pay. And Saugeen Shores taxpayers will pay twice – for Bruce County lawyers, and for Saugeen Shores lawyers. OMB hearings can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The zoning amendment application fees are unlikely to earn enough to cover the legal bills of a losing case.
Surely Saugeen Shores Council knew they were writing a bylaw that would not stand. Why are they trying to waste taxpayer money?

Interestingly, Bruce County is taking another Saugeen Shores bylaw to the OMB. It is a bylaw that defines intensive farming as more than 75 animals on a 100 acre farm. This is a number that is way below the Provincial definition. South Bruce Peninsula Mayor Carl Noble, a member of County Council, Carl Noble, opposes this bylaw, and supports its appeal, saying that he has a cow calf operation with 40 cows, and at certain times of year, he would be violating this bylaw. Mayor McIver of Northern Bruce Peninsula, another cattle farmer, agreed. 75 animals on 100 acres is clearly not intensive farming in this area. Fortunately, our farming mayors know that. And it is certain that the OMB will agree. And it is certain it will cost us to prove the obvious.

Both of these bylaws are directly against the interests of the farmers of Saugeen Shores. By defining their livestock operation as intensive, and by prohibiting wind development, with associated lease income and investment opportunities, Saugeen Shores council has undermined the ability of their own farmers to earn a living from their land.

If I was a citizen of Saugeen Shores, I would question the use of my tax dollars to take losing cases to the OMB. I would question the wisdom of a Council that denies my farming neighbours an ability to earn an income. And I would remember who voted for bizarre bylaws in the upcoming elections.

And I would vote.

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