By Alex Rinfret--Masset will lose up to 150 crab fishing and processing jobs if a wind farm company is allowed to put turbines in the shallow waters off the east coast of Graham Island, say local crab fishermen.
Around 60 fishermen and other concerned citizens filled the Masset Rec Centre auditorium Thursday night for a public meeting organized by NaiKun Wind Energy Group Inc, the company which wants to build a large wind farm in Hecate Strait.
NaiKun officials said the purpose of the meeting was to give the public more information about the project's environmental assessment, and two representatives from the provincial government's Environmental Assessment Office were on hand to explain that process.
But the locals were more interested in answers to questions like where the wind farm will be located, how many jobs it will create, how crabs and other creatures might be affected by turbines and electromagnetic fields, and whether the company intends to compensate crabbers who lose their livelihoods.
Residents with questions were repeatedly told by NaiKun general counsel Tony Fogarassy to wait until the end of the environmental assessment presentation and another presentation by the company's environmental consultants - presentations which took almost an hour and a half.
When he finally got a chance to speak, crab fisherman Telell Waldhaus told the company representatives that the people of Haida Gwaii have relied on the crab fishery for the past 100 years, and that the Haida people have been harvesting crabs since well before that time. The crab fishery, he said, has been sustainable and currently provides around 150 seasonal and permanent jobs for Masset and Old Massett residents.
The area where NaiKun wants to put 64 to 110 wind turbines - the Dogfish Banks, off the northeast coast of Graham Island - is among the richest crab fishing areas in Hecate Strait, Mr. Waldhaus said.
If this area is roped off for the wind farm, the crab harvest will be reduced enough that there would be no more need for processing in Masset, he said.
"How are these jobs going to be replaced?" he asked. "We've told you guys since 2003 that the project is right in the middle of where we fish."
Despite the concerns raised by the crabbers, the company has not budged from this location, he said. Moving the wind farm to the west would solve the problem, he said, and he asked whether NaiKun would be prepared to do so.
Matt Burns, vice-president of commercial operations, replied that the company would consider moving it only if it could find another location relatively close to Prince Rupert where the wind blows at least nine metres per second, where the water is not too deep, and where there is substrate on the sea floor.
NaiKun has hired international experts and has been studying wind conditions in Hecate Strait since 2003, Mr. Burns said. Research so far indicates that the Dogfish Banks is the best spot for the wind farm.
Robin Brown, who has years of experience fishing in the area, told him that the water is just as shallow a few kilometres to the west, but Mr. Burns said research shows the wind dies down as it gets closer to the land.
Mr. Burns told the public that based on other wind farms operating around the world, the company expects that this one will create 30 to 50 full-time, permanent jobs. NaiKun is currently looking into how to provide training here so that as many of these jobs as possible will go to islanders.
But Mr. Waldhaus was not impressed, saying that these jobs will not benefit the community if they come at the expense of the crab jobs.
Mr. Waldhaus also pressed for answers about what kind of research the company has done or plans to do to figure out how crabs will be affected by electromagnetic fields, and was told that he will receive an answer to this in the future.
At least one resident was frustrated by the lack of answers.
"Are there any benefits for us?" he asked. "The only benefits I see here are consultants getting paycheques... There's been a lot of years of research and I don't see any answers."
Mr. Fogarassy attempted to end the meeting around 9 pm, thanking everyone for coming out and announcing the end of the question and answer session. But he was interrupted by Mr. Waldhaus, who turned to face the crowd and asked anyone who thought the location of the wind farm was the biggest issue to raise their hands. Almost everyone in the room raised their hands.