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Nor’Wester Mountain Range and Loch Lomond Watershed Reserve

Nor’Wester Mountain Range and Loch Lomond Watershed Reserve – Blake Township, Neebing, ON –  WIND TURBINES TRUMP CULTURE AND NATURE

This pristine cultural and natural landscape is the site of a proposed industrial wind turbine development—another potential victim of the provincial government’s crusade for renewable energy projects at any cost.   

Why it matters

The ancient Nor’Wester Mountain Range rises dramatically above Lake Superior and extends southward from the city of Thunder Bay toward the Ontario-Minnesota border. It defines the city’s setting and skyline, and is immensely important to the Anishinabe community of the Fort William First Nation (FWFN).  Mount McKay (“Thunder Mountain" or Animikii-wajiw in Ojibwe) has been a landmark gathering place by the Ojibwe Anishinabeg for many generations. Their presence at this locale long predates the arrival of European traders who established trading posts nearby, first in 1684 during the New France era and again in 1803 with the construction of the North West Company’s Fort William.  The range provides habitat that is essential to moose, Eastern cougar, and other flora and fauna unique to this provincially important ecosystem, and the Loch Lomond watershed is an important freshwater resource for the region.

The range remains important for cultural, ecological and aesthetic reasons and plays a vital role in the area’s recreational and tourism economy.

Why it’s endangered

Horizon Wind Inc. is proposing the development of an industrial wind turbine installation called Big Thunder Wind Farm on a portion of the Nor’Wester Mountain Range land owned by the City of Thunder Bay (located between and on the Loch Lomond Watershed, First Nation Traditional Territory and the provincially declared Area of Natural and Scientific Interest), a project that would see sixteen 139-metre-high, 32-megawatt wind turbines erected on the Nor’Wester’s skyline south of Mount McKay. 

FWFN believes the wind farm project will have a deleterious effect on the watershed, on the long-standing cultural heritage values of its people, and on essential habitat.

Where things stand

The Nor’Wester Mountain Escarpment Protection Committee (NMEPC) was created in 2009 with the mission to “protect the Nor’Wester Mountain Escarpment from development that has the potential to harm the natural environment and the health of the residents.”

Although the project was first conceived in 2005, members of FWFN and Signatories of the Robinson Superior Treaty have expressed concern that the “duty to consult” was not undertaken to their satisfaction by either the proponent company or the Crown.  

Despite FWFN’s objections, the Renewable Energy Approval (REA) process (established under the Environmental Protection Act) proceeded, with the comment period ending in June 2013.

In May 2014, Horizon Wind Inc. filed an application for a judicial review in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice with the aim of compelling the Ministry of the Environment to issue the REA, but the court declined to intervene in the project.  

In June 2014, FWFN filed for an injunction against the Ministry of the Environment and other provincial ministries to prevent the Province from allowing activity on their Treaty Lands and from issuing a REA for the Big Thunder Wind Project until a commitment is made to protect their Treaty Rights. Meanwhile, it is reported that Ontario’s legal counsel continues to oppose delaying the final approval process or disclosing requested project information on the grounds that it would impede the final project approval decision-making process.  

UPDATE: In July 2014, the Ontario Power Authority cancelled Horizon Wind’s feed-in-tariff contract, citing delays due to force majeure events, effectively cancelling the entire project.