Jim and Angie Leveille didn't experience water well problems when pile driving took place for the North Kent Wind farm near their Caledonia Road home, but they knew it was just a matter of time.
That time, they say, came Sunday morning, just four days after some turbines with the North Kent Wind project began operating on Wednesday.
Jim Leveille said when they lost water pressure shortly after his wife took a shower and put in a load of laundry, he decided to check the pump for the well.
He found his well system was plugged.
The citizen group Water Wells First began sounding the alarm in June 2016 that vibration from pile driving during construction and operation of the North Kent Wind farm would stir up the Kettle Point black shale that lies at the bottom of the aquifer area residents draw water from.
“We were just holding our breath,” Leveille said, after not encountering well problems that several others, including his neighbour, experienced since last summer when pile driving began for the wind project.
“We knew whoever was close was going to get the shale particles right away and once they started vibrating the whole aquifer we knew we were going to get it.”
Welling up with tears, Angie Leveille said, “it's a five-year-old well. I'm still paying the loan on this well and it's ruined.”
Jim Leveille added they had $4,000 worth of baseline tests taken before any work began on the wind farm showing their water was perfect.
Angie Leveille said the testing “proved what we already knew.”
Rick Goetheyn is also among four property owners not affected from pile driving, but have seen their wells go bad since turbines began operating.
“I was hoping that it would not happen to me . . . then all of a sudden Saturday it starts,” he said.
Goetheyn said on Saturday morning the water from the well for his Pioneer Line home was cloudy and by supper time it was black.
He didn't do the baseline testing recommended by Water Wells First, noting that he drilled his well in 1991 and “I've never had an issue until now.”
Goetheyn said he is fortunate that he hooked into municipal water several years ago, which he only ran to the outside hydrants on his house.
Noting he doesn't like the taste of municipal water, he only uses it for such things as watering the lawn and washing vehicles.
Both the Leveilles and Goetheyn are troubled by what they see as a lack of response by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Control on this issue over the past several months.
The ministry recently sent letters to some other property owners whose wells have gone bad, stating it agreed with reports by the wind developer's consultants that the vibrations from pile driving for the project were not enough to cause the water quality issues they have experienced.
“We thought they were here to protect us and they haven't done nothing to help,” said Jim Leveille of the MOECC.
“I don't understand how they let it go so long,” said Goetheyn. “It's terrible.”
The Chatham Daily News contacted Pattern Energy, a major partner in the project along with Korean industrial giant Samsung Renewable Energy.
A company spokesperson provided a media statement and a well findings brochure along with a link to a nearly 11-minute, professionally produced video on the North Kent Wind project, available at northkentwind.com.
It was also pointed out the area has experienced flood conditions recently.
The media release stated extensive investigations determined the conditions associated with the complaints were not related to the construction of the North Kent Wind turbine foundations, adding the MOECC's own review agreed with the complaints investigations.
“The highest vibration levels recorded at the residential water supply well locations were attributed to water pumps and nearby traffic,” the company's media release states. “Vibration levels at the water well locations from construction activities were inconsequential and much less than everyday sources.”
The release also notes water quality or quantity concerns appeared related to well construction, the condition of existing well pumping and treatment equipment, ongoing maintenance or lack of maintenance in combination with the natural conditions in the region.
“In the majority of investigations, filtration systems installed between the time of baseline sampling and the complaint were found to be improperly connected between the pump and pressure tanks, resulting in added stress on the pumping systems,” the wind developer's media release states. “When these filtration systems were bypassed, the water flow rates were normal.”
However, it is the shale particles that are of primary concern, said Water Well First spokesperson Kevin Jakubec.
He noted the group's expert who testified at an Environmental Review Tribunal in the fall of 2016, included modeling that showed during the operation phase of the wind farm it would send vibrations into the aquifer.
“It's all identical, it's sediment release,” Jakubec said of the impact from the vibrations whether caused by pile driving or operating the turbines.
However, he is optimistic about a meeting last Thursday between Water Wells First experts and members of the MOECC technical branch.
Jakubec said the MOECC were presented findings of black shale – known to contain heavy metals including mercury, arsenic and lead that are harmful to human health – that were found in contaminated wells.
“Now we're making progress,” Jakubec said, adding the ministry now has the evidence of black shale in these wells.
He believes this obligates the province to initiate a health hazard investigation. Jakubec said the citizen group has requested the Premier of Ontario shut the North Kent Wind farm down while this investigation is conducted.