Years of tainted, undrinkable well water in Chatham-Kent has led to several environmental charges being laid against a provincial ministry, its minister, and three industrial wind companies operating within the municipality.
An Ontario Justice of the Peace has determined on July 12 that there are reasonable and probable grounds to lay charges under the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) against Jeff Yurek, Ontario's minister of the environment, the Environment Ministry and the three industrial wind companies -- Pattern Energy Group, Samsung Renewable Energy Inc. and Engie Canada Inc. The three companies operate the North Kent 1 Wind Farm and East Lake St. Clair Wind Farm in CK.
According to court documents, the three companies are charged under the EPA with "unlawfully discharging contaminants, including black shale and potentially hazardous metals into the natural environment in an unlawful manner that caused or is likely to cause an adverse effect."
Both Yurek and the Ministry of the Environment have been charged for allegedly "failing to take all reasonable care to prevent the installation and operation of the wind turbines" at the two wind farms, which resulted in the well water contamination.
In 2017, laboratory tests results were submitted to the ministry by Water Wells First after revealing a 14,000 times increase in black shale particles in at least one local water well since construction started on the wind farm north of Chatham.
Christine Burke, one of several Chatham-Kent residents who have been plagued with well water issues for years, was named as a witness in court documents and submitted evidence under oath to the Justice of the Peace, which led to the provincial charges.
In documents submitted to the Ontario court, Burke said she has been living in her Dover Centre home for 36 years with her husband. She said the wells at her fourth-generation home provided pristine, unfiltered, crystal clear, safe drinking water until construction began.
"When the pile driving and construction of the wind turbines started on our shallow aquifer, our drinking water slowly turned black and is now unsafe to consume, cook with or even bathe in," she told the court. "This issue continues today and has turned our lives upside down and we are not the only family affected by this devastation."
Eric Gillespie, a Toronto-based lawyer, who represents Burke and complainants who have been experiencing problems with their water wells, said the five parties are scheduled to appear in a Blenheim courtroom on August 14. He said evidence will be disclosed and each party will be asked to enter a plea.
"If there's a guilty plea, then we'll be discussing sentencing," said Gillespie. "If there's a not guilty plea, then we would be starting to move towards trial."
Dave Taylor, the Municipality of Chatham Kent's lawyer, said he would not be providing further comment on the case.
"In response to media reports of legal proceedings regarding operation of wind turbines in Chatham-Kent, the municipality will not be making comments on the issue as the matter is before the courts," said Taylor.
In an email to Blackburn News, Andrew Buttigieg, Yurek's press secretary, said there will not be a statement on the pending charges.
"As this matter is before the courts it would be inappropriate to comment,” Buttigieg said.
The Ontario government just announced last week that it would be launching a health hazard investigation on roughly 200 privately-owned water wells across Chatham-Kent.
-With files from Michael Hugall