Ontario court dismisses a lawsuit against wind company.
By: John Spears Business reporter
An Ontario court says that landowners near a proposed wind farm have suffered diminished property values.
A lawyer for the landowners says the decision will clear the way for more actions against both wind developers and those who lease their land for wind turbines.
But a spokesman for the wind power company says the evidence that the court heard was “speculative,” and the proceedings never reached the point where core issues were addressed.
The ruling by Madam Justice S.E. Healey dismissed the claims by a group of landowners in the Collingwood area who sued both wpd Canada Corp. and a farm corporation that signed lease agreements with wpd.
The dismissal is based on the fact that the proposed eight-turbine Fairview Wind Project hasn’t yet received environmental approval.
“The plaintiffs are unable to prove, currently, that the Fairview Wind Project will be built,” Healey wrote in her decision (emphasis in the original).
But she did accept that damage has been done.
“Even though in this case the court accepts that the plaintiffs have suffered, and are currently suffering, losses culminating in diminished property values, as the evidence exists today the plaintiffs are unable to prove that they have been wronged by the defendants,” she wrote.
Healey noted that the landowners near the proposed wind farms had submitted expert opinion estimating that drop in land values of 20 to 50 per cent.
She said the landowners can file a damage claim when the project clears all of its regulatory approvals.
“It is possible . . . that they may he wronged by one or more of the defendants committing a tort in the future when and if the Fairview Wind Project is either given approval and/or constructed,” she wrote.
(A tort is a civil action that causes damage.)
Sylvia and John Wiggins, who were selling their a 48-acre horse farm, had sued for $2 million. They said no one would buy their property when the wind project was announced. They were joined by other property owners.
Eric Gillespie, the lawyer for the landowners who brought the action, said the decision is a significant step forward for his clients.
“Wind corporations and politicians have been saying for many years that wind turbines don’t devalue property,” Gillespie said in an interview.
“This is a court finding that they do, even before a project has been approved and constructed,” he said
“In the minds of our clients, that’s a major breakthrough,” he added.
Kevin Surette, spokesman for wpd, downplayed the significance of the ruling, noting that it came at an early stage in proceedings.
The court’s acceptance that the property values near the proposed wind farm have suffered came before the wind company had made its case, he said.
“The court is basing that opinion on the evidence presented by the plaintiffs,” he said in an interview.
“We have not, and we had not, presented evidence on our side, and we haven’t challenged their evidence,” he said.
“Had the case proceeded, we would have challenged those claims.”
The wind farm application by wpd is in the hands of Ontario’s environment ministry, Surette said. The ministry still hasn’t accepted that the application for the eight-turbine development is complete.
Once it is accepted as complete, the ministry has six months to approve or reject it.