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Samsung pile driving threatens Chatham groundwater supplies.

Any day now, electronics giant Samsung will begin pile driving more than 1500 massive steel beams into the bedrock near Chatham Ontario to anchor the foundations of 34 giant wind turbines they are installing for the North Kent 1 Wind Project. The bedrock is Kettle Point Black Shale and turbines anchored to it in the same manner in neighbouring Dover Township have already harmed the well water of dozens of families. Vibrations from the pile driving stirred up fine black shale particles that normally lay inert and harmless. Some of the particles are so fine that they cannot be effectively filtered out – making the water undrinkable and even dangerous to shower in. Once the turbines began operating, vibrations that occur at certain wind speeds caused even more particles of black shale to shake loose and enter local wells (much like how an unbalanced wheel will make a car shake at certain speeds). I saw this first hand when I visited Chatham and Dover this weekend to give a non-violent direct action training to dozens of local residents who have tried in vain to get the Ontario government and Samsung to change the construction methods. They are determined to stop the construction – even if it means going to jail. Nobody I met was against wind power – in fact most welcomed the projects and never suspected that their sudden well water problems were caused by turbines a few kilometers away.

Mark St Pierre with a sample of what a filter removed from his well water in just two days.

Mark and Marilyn St. Pierre have lived in Dover for 40 years where they raised 87 foster children in a home with perfect (and frequently inspected) well water. When the five “Marsh Line” turbines were installed one kilometer away in 2008, Mark was thrilled. “I thought it was amazing that we could make electricity with no pollution – I was 100% in support of them.” But his previously impeccable well water immediately went cloudy. He bought filters to put on his pump, but the filters would quickly clog with fine black powder. He drilled another well on his property, but it gave black, silty water too. Mark didn’t suspect the turbines because he knew that the groundwater under his property flowed towards the turbines, so how could they possibly be the problem? The source of the pollution is the bedrock itself. The cause of the pollution is the vibrations that stir up the fine silt. As more turbines were installed nearby, the problem got worse. Now, even though there has been no recent turbine construction nearby for more than 3 years, his water is still polluted. So is the water of many of his neighbours – but only some of them can admit this. Dozens of families in the area have been “compensated” by the wind developer with water filtration systems costing $8000 or more. To get one, you have to sign a “non-disclosure” agreement, a gag order, promising under threat of legal prosecution not to tell anyone – not even the government, that your water was harmed and that the wind company was paying you compensation.

The Burke family lives a few kilometers down the road from the St. Pierres and have been there for four generations. Their well water was perfectly fine for almost a century but when the turbines were installed nearby, it quickly changed. Christine Burke noticed that her laundry was suddenly coming out of the machine flecked with black. Then they found the bottom of their toilet tank was covered in a layer of fine black silt. Eventually, they started to hear that others had problems too – but it took time before the connection to the wind turbines was discovered. Their dreams of opening a bed and breakfast on their farm have been crushed by bad water.

Last year, people in the Chatham area formed a group, Water Wells First, in order to shed some light on the problem before the North Kent 1 wind project was built. They alerted the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change and every other government agency at every level that dealt with water. They found experts on bedrock geology, on hydrogeology, vibration experts – even experts on vibrations generated specifically by wind turbines! They got a hearing in front of the Environmental Review Tribunal. They did everything right. Eventually, they began to realize that the entire process was so slanted in favour of the proponents that they had little chance of winning. So they settled for a mediation process which at least got them a commitment that the proponents would pay for baseline testing of people’s water before the start of construction. This is critical as the onus is on the well owner to prove that their water quality has been affected to get compensation. But the devil is in the details and the decisions made about everything from what contaminants would be tested for, to how and when the testing would happen, all seemed to be made with an eye to limiting the liability of the company.

And once again, people in Ontario have come to the realization that their governments will not protect the water – it is up to us.

Despite clear indications that anchoring wind turbines into the Kettle Point Black Shale threatens to render undrinkable the well water of hundreds of people, Samsung refuses to change their construction methods and refuses to offer guarantees to area residents that they will install municipal water lines to any homes whose well water is ruined.

The Council of Canadians supports wind power as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels which can help Canada meet 100% of its energy needs from renewables by 2050. But as with any other industrial infrastructure, wind farms must be carefully developed to avoid having serious impacts on vulnerable areas.

Water Wells First has started an international boycott of Samsung. And in the coming days, they are going to put their bodies on the line to stop construction of Samsung’s “North Kent 1” wind farm.