WIND TURBINE CONSTRUCTION POSSIBLY BEHIND WELL CONTAMINATION
By Cori Marshall
This story is brought to you in part by Borrum Energy Solutions
Clean, renewable energy is something that, as a society we should be striving for. Preserving our sources of drinking water ought to be one of, if not the highest priorities. What happens when that pursuit of a cleaner environmental future is not in line with the preservation of fresh, clean drinking water?
This is the situation in Chatham-Kent Ontario where the pile-driving for the construction and installation of wind turbines by South Kent Wind may be behind the black well water experienced by local residents.
A group of residents have banded together to resist the work that may be affecting their drinking water and ensure that necessary steps are taken to protect it. Water Wells First was formed in 2016 as concerned citizens came together to discuss what could possibly happen to their water when construction began. When the project was announced, residents related their concerns to the project's parent companies Pattern and AECOM, regarding a similar project in Dover Township where wells were impacted turning water from safe and clear to off smelling filled with black sediment.
Residents were assured that this would not happen in their Township. In the year since the group's formation they have amassed an ample collection of information that indicates that their wells have been impacted by the pile-driving in their area. We spoke with Kevin Jakubic, the Spokesperson for Water Wells First to walk us through the situation.
Jakubic said that the water that came from the aquifer "was crystal clear for decades." From the amount of documentation on the Well Water First website you would be hard pressed to believe that in the current context. It appears as though something has happened to the wells since construction of the turbines began.
Very early on in the construction of North Kent Wind (NKW) 1, the first turbine in the area, construction came to halt. A release from the grassroots organization suggested that the piles, large steel pipes in the base of the turbine "may have been delivered without the correct amount of concrete fill in the pipes." The concrete forms a plug at one end allowing the pile to be driven into the ground while resisting the impact. Should cracks form in the pile there is a risk of forming "a direct channel for surface waters to travel to the underlying aquifer and contaminate it."
In June of this year, Water Wells First informed the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) that the first piles "lacked any pile caps or proper measures to ensure the bottom ends were properly waterproofed." The group took video footage that demonstrated that rainwater flowed directly into the aquifer.
Jakubic suggested that this situation may demonstrate a conflict of interest. The Municipality of Chatham-Kent invested "$8 million into the project and [took] a share owner position." The issue here may be that the municipality is an investor in the NKW project and must enforce regulations.
After construction began Jakubic said that "five wells were impacted within a few weeks." The municipality could not claim ignorance on the issue, "9 complaints about well interference were made in two months."
Residents' water was being turned black, and thick enough that the water no longer flowed. Jakubic personally "handed a baby bottle filled with the black water to Premier Kathleen Wynne." He said that "she stared at the bottle."
This developing situation has impacted members of the community differently. Jakubic explained that in the recent past the area "has lost its economic base." Farmers have resorted to renting their farm homes while moving into town to work. Because of this trend, the impacted water wells "those with the lowest monthly income are the most vulnerable."
Residents were not getting the information they needed, so the group began to collect sediment samples. Jakubic said that the company "refused the sediment sample". What they did find is that the black particulates found in the well water "contained heavy metals." Jakubic added that those who have "long-term exposure to this contamination are at risk of cancer."
This situation raised many questions, such as was there any data available to make informed decisions on this project? There was, the municipality relied "100% on the developpers vibration data," Jakubic said.
Water Wells First posted an audio recording where the Director of Operations of the wind farm in Dover Township which points to evidence that there was prior knowledge of the contamination that may happen. The Director was quoted as saying that he "did see the issues when we were punching the piles through the Earth and at that point in time there was a disturbance."
The company's belief is that the disturbances happen during the time that the piles are being driven. It is understandable that the vibration from the driving of the piles would knock loose some of the black shale in the ground. If this was known why weren't additional steps taken to prevent this from happening. We reached out to the municipality to inquire what is being done for those affected and to remediate the situation.
In a Media Release in response to our questions the Municipality of Chatham Kent stated that "council [on] Monday approved a motion asking the provincial government to halt wind turbine construction in the municipality until the issue of water well quality is fully investigated." the municipality confirmed having been notified of five wells that "have become clogged with sediments."
Matt Dallas from Pattern Energy said that its "NKW team takes the concerns about groundwater quality seriously, [and] understands that access to clean water is essential." Pattern Energy has "retained scientific experts to study the issue," in response to the concerns of residents. He did underline that "there is no plausible mechanism by which fine rock particles can be transported tens of hundreds of metres from the turbine foundation pile locations to water supply wells."
The fact remains that residents have manifested jars of cloudy water, it that occurred after the construction began. A positive take-away is that Chatham-Kent has moved to halt construction until the issue can be studied further.
On Friday, Chatham-Kent officials met with representatives from Ontario's Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) to discuss the issues with well water in the vicinity of the North Kent Wind One (NKW 1) wind farm project. In a media release, the municipality announced that "MOECC staff will be reconnecting with owners of wells which have experienced issues," and transmitting that information to the developers.
At Monday's meeting, Chatham-Kent Councilors voted to pass Jeff Wesley's motion for the municipality to request that the government halt wind turbine construction. The MOECC was "open to the fact there needs to be better communication." The Ministry is taken the concerns over water quality seriously and has committed to working to deal with the issues," though no firm commitment was made to halt construction.