A Letter To Cumberland County's Planning Department
Updated: Mar 1
The following letter was submitted by Kristina MacKenzie, architectural designer and Folly Lake resident, to Cumberland County as part of their request for public input on regulations controlling small & large wind turbines
My name is Kristina MacKenzie and I am an architectural designer living in Wentworth. I have a home office at my full time residence and a shared office space in Debert. I am reaching out in opposition of the current proposed plan for the Higgins Mountain Industrial Wind Project as a business owner and concerned resident in the community.
My company is a relatively new professional endeavour. I have a Masters in Architecture from the University of Calgary and a Bachelor of Community Design with combined honours in Urban Design and Sustainability from Dalhousie University. I have worked as an architectural designer from coast to coast in Canada and I am anticipating registration as an Architect with the Nova Scotia Association of Architects in 2022. Our design company is focused on small scale residential projects and aims to design homes that fit within their context, use less materials, and consume less energy. We have already been involved with several residential projects in the Wentworth area and it is obvious that the Wentworth Valley is an increasingly popular and sought-after community for like-minded outdoor enthusiasts; enthusiasts like myself and my family. My partner and I recently completed the construction of our small home at Folly Lake. Our project was almost 100% self built and meets Passive House standards for insulation and air tightness. We have also made a conscious effort to be Net Zero Ready so that we can start investing in solar panels and gradually reduce our dependence on Nova Scotia Power. We are avid mountain bikers, snowboarders, and hikers so Wentworth Valley is the right place for us to be. We have really started to feel at home and look forward to raising our family in the community. The idea of being "sustainable" is the driving force behind my design thinking and a consistent goal in my everyday life. I believe that we need to aggressively invest in more sustainable sources of energy, but more importantly, use and consume less as a society. I am struggling with the proposed project as I feel a bit hypocritical being in opposition. In some ways, I am the definition of a NIMBY... but I truly believe that my reasons for opposing this plan are in the interest of the greater community of residents and seasonal visitors. I am not going to argue against the positive environmental impacts of this type of development. I feel that there are some underlying concerns with hidden life cycles costs and emissions associated with turbine raw material mining, transport, construction, decommissioning, etc. that are definitely not fully considered. Regardless, this type of development is generally what the province needs to "green" the grid and reduce fossil fuel dependency. I will argue that this project is definitely going to have negative environmental impacts, such as habitat loss, effects on human health, and degradation of the natural landscape and watersheds. We often hike and bike in and around the proposed turbine site and have seen bears, fishers, white weasels, owls, bats, and eagles. We have also seen evidence of moose in the winter months. These species will have their habitat fractured. I am also certain that there will be unhappy residents and visitors impacted by noise, reflections, and shadows. The clear cutting in the area has already taken a chunk out of the wild hillscapes and this development would just further degrade the natural landscape and its captivating views.
Aside from the environmental issues, my biggest concern with the Higgins Mountain Industrial Wind Project is the negative impact it will have on future development in the Wentworth Valley. Having lived and worked in places like Canmore, Banff, and Whistler I am familiar with the mountain town life and culture. These mountain towns may have been established around industry, resource mining, and the railroad but they have blossomed into iconic outdoor destinations; the modern mountain town. I would argue that the modern mountain town we know and love started out like the current Wentworth Valley; a small community full of people that like to climb up and ride down mountains. Wentworth may lack a similar elevation above sea level... but the mountain bike, skiing, and hiking scenes are absolutely booming nonetheless. I am sure that Ski Wentworth can provide evidence of the increased ticket sales over the past 5 years. Likewise, the Wentworth Mountain Bike Association can share how their membership sales have been overwhelmingly high for their first official year of operation. These are two measurable indicators of use and just a piece of the pie when you consider total area users. Numbers of people hiking, snowshoeing, etc. are also increasing and this is obvious when you drive down the NS-4 Highway on a sunny day. It would be devastating to not celebrate this area for what it is and allow it to grow into the mountain town it is capable of becoming. It is only a matter of time before developers catch on and start proposing more accommodations, retail, and dining establishments in the area. I believe that this is the only location in Nova Scotia with this kind of potential and that the Higgins Mountain Industrial Wind Project will hinder future development. I am against the proposed plan for the Higgins Mountain Industrial Wind Project. I feel that there are other sites in Nova Scotia with less potential for tourism, less suitable habitat for wildlife, and lower residential density. If the wind project does move forward, I would like to see the number of turbines reduced. Referencing the proposed layout from the Visual Impact Analysis presented at Open House #2, I would like turbines 1-10 removed or relocated to clear the valley. With regards to future planning documents, I have some thoughts and recommendations:
The valley should be reserved for recreation, tourism, and low density residential development
There should be a defined master plan for the Wentworth Valley, specifically around Ski Wentworth, developed in conjunction with property owners and stakeholders such as Ski Wentworth and the Wentworth Mountain Bike Association. A well defined master plan that is made public would spark development and if the County is ahead of this there can be measures put in place to encourage good, sustainable design and development
The height and density of future wind turbines should be generously based on proximity to residential areas. I feel that the overall impact of these huge turbines on animals, birds, and humans is not yet well understood
In conclusion, I see Wentworth Valley as the future mountain town of Nova Scotia - not a high yield wind turbine site. The cultural and social value of this site is irreplaceable and the economic benefits the proponent is seeking can be found elsewhere. I appreciate your consideration and would like to learn more about any planned community engagement sessions regarding development in the Wentworth Valley. Please reach out if there is anything I can do to help. Kristina MacKenzie M. Arch, LEED AP