The proposed project would make all this too dangerous to continue …


Dear potential investors, are you the “smart money”, or the other kind

The proponent’s 2005 proposal for this proposed project stated: “The financial support comes from three high net worth individuals plus the substantial resources of the Horizon Legacy Group, a Toronto based commercial real estate firm.” These individuals were John Wildman, Paul Fisher, and Anthony Zwig, and were joined by Ian Baines a year or two later. The proponent’s 2007 Public Information Centre referred to these “four founders” and stated that the proponent “is providing the necessary financing for this project”.

Well, the proponent has now been bumbling around for more than 11 years, and:

  • Ian Baines (the only one that claimed to have any experience with developing hydro-electric generating stations) ceased all involvement about 2011.
  • John Wildman and Paul Fisher ceased all involvement in 2015.
  • It appears the proposed project is now stopped, while Anthony Zwig attempts to either raise construction financing or sell the entire company to some entity that has the money needed to continue.

So the “high net worth individuals” have abandoned this sinking ship. They have shown the financial assurances and promises they made in their 2005 proposal were as worthless as their other important commitments, for example that their proposed project “will not generally diminish the public’s enjoyment of the area for swimming, boating …” and that their building – even for their current Alternative 1A – would not rise above the level of the road. This continues the reputation of this proponent of empty promises, deception, and lies.

The proponent is apparently now hunting for a bigger fool who will believe this proposed project is almost “shovel ready”. We know that the only shovel this proposed project is ready for is for the manure the proponent will spew to such suckers.

A few years ago, a subsidiary of Oakville Hydro considered investing in this proposed project, thinking that all they needed to get the proposed project built was to get community support, which they would address by hiring a public relations firm. Good for them for not blundering into this mess.

But interest rates have been so low for so long that there will be endless investors that will consider this proposed project. So far, the smart money has stayed away. To help the others, we present the following examples of why this proposed project couldn’t, wouldn’t, and shouldn’t be built as it would; be too expensive to build, have too many operational problems, produce too little power to be viable, and be too dangerous to operate.

Deflector wall
A concrete deflector wall, the full height of the water in the Bala north channel, would need to be constructed to evenly direct the water around the 90° turn at the proposed generating station’s intake. This deflector wall would be unacceptable for many reasons:

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) requires that flow through the Bala north dam not be obstructed, as the full capacity of the Bala north dam is needed during spring freshet and other times, even if the proposed generating station is not operating. However, this deflector wall would obstruct approximately half the flow through the Bala north channel, so would not be allowed.
  • When the proposed generating station is not operating, the deflector wall would cause the water to be directed towards the south support for the District Municipality of Muskoka’s Muskoka Road 169 bridge (the Highway Bridge) over the Bala north channel. The resulting erosion and undermining of the Highway Bridge’s south abutment would damage it.

Increased flow in the Bala north channel
When the proposed generating station is operating, the flow into it:

  • Would add to the flow through the Bala north channel, with the result that the flow past the Highway Bridge and CP Rail bridge could be higher than it has ever been before.
  • Would change the direction of flow past the support piers for the Highway Bridge.

These structures; may not have been designed for such a flow, may not be able to handle such a flow in their current condition, and could be damaged or need reinforcement.

Proposed upstream cofferdam
During the proposed construction, the proponent would need to build an upstream cofferdam and there are many unresolved issues, apparently with no acceptable solution so far.

As flow through the Bala north channel may be needed during the proposed construction, the MNRF requires the proponent be able to lower the upstream cofferdam on short notice, such as a day or two.

  1. Therefore, the cofferdam design must enable it to be both lowered, and later raised. The proponent’s initial design of a rock-fill cofferdam would therefore not be acceptable to the MNRF.
  2. The proponent’s next suggestion of a soldier-pile cofferdam would require deep and wide holes be bored directly adjacent to both the Bala north dam and the Highway Bridge support piers. As there would be huge forces on these holes from the I-beams in them holding back up to 20′ of water, and there have been no subsurface investigations at these locations, this design is not currently acceptable either. Therefore, the costs and time to implement this cofferdam design, and whether it is even feasible, are not known.
  3. The proponent’s environmental approval from the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) does not permit any fine particulate matter, hydraulic fluids, or other deleterious materials to be washed into the Moon River. Therefore, the cofferdam lowering plan could not be implemented as it would flood the proposed construction site, washing everything into the Moon River.
  4. During the time period after the proposed intake is excavated and before the proposed intermediate cofferdam is in place, lowering the upstream cofferdam would result in uncontrolled flooding of the Moon River. Therefore, the cofferdam could not be lowered during this time period, which is unacceptable.

Therefore, the proponent’s proposed upstream cofferdam designs would not comply with the requirements of the MNRF and MOECC.

Approvals – proposed construction
There are issues with the three main approvals the proponent needs before starting their proposed construction:

  1. Municipal
    1. The proponent’s driveway entrance permit is for the wrong location, as it is for Margaret Burgess Park rather than Portage Landing (which is the municipal land south of the proposed construction site). For the required location, guardrail would need to be removed, and this would create dangers to the public and liability to the District. It is not known what time, costs, or design would be required to implement this driveway entrance. For example, it may require the shoulder to be widened to create a new lane, isolated by concrete “Jersey barriers”. In any case, the current approval would not apply.
    2. The proponent has not met the conditions for this driveway entrance permit to be valid (including the $2,000,000 Letter of Credit, Heritage Impact Assessment, and detailed engineering drawings).
    3. The proponent requires other municipal approvals, such as for the tie-backs which would be required to secure the shoring to support the District Municipality of Muskoka’s Muskoka Road 169 due to the 60′-deep excavation they would need directly adjacent to it.
  2. MNRF
    1. While the proponent has received Phase 1 Temporary Works approval, this was only for the rock-fill cofferdam design submitted for that approval. As the proponent would not use this upstream cofferdam design, this approval is no longer valid.
    2. There are other problems we’ve seen for their Phase 2 plans, such as their gate hoist mechanism did not appear to be suitable for a “post-disaster building” as required by the Ontario Building Code, the gate hoist mechanism was too close to the public look-out, and their plans would require modifying the Bala north dam, which we understand would not be acceptable to the MNRF.
  3. MOECC
    1. While the proponent does have environmental approval, this approval expires on January 23, 2018 and it is unlikely construction could begin by then, given the requirements such as the $2,000,000 Letter of Credit and other approvals required before construction could begin.
    2. Since the proponent was issued environmental approval in 2013, many other environmental issues have become known, and which would therefore need to be addressed. During the proposed construction, these include the:
      • Cofferdam lowering plan would not comply with the environmental obligations.
      • Additional investigation required as a result of the contaminated groundwater found, such as drilling exploratory boreholes downstream of the likely source so the problem can be understood and acceptably mitigated.
      • Routing over others’ property of the pipes and hoses to the settling tanks, and the inspection and insurance needed for this.
    3. The following negative environmental impacts during the proposed operation would need to be addressed:
      • The dangers to the public, as the proposed downstream safety boom would not delineate the dangerous water. Therefore, it would not comply with the Canadian Dam Association’s guidelines.
      • The proponent’s proposed portage would encourage people to canoe through dangerous waters.
      • The obstructed view and the danger of the proposed public look-out being too close to the gate hoist mechanism.
      • The proponent has stated they would not warn the public before increasing flow to the Moon River. This would not comply with the MNRF’s Public Safety Measures Plan for the Bala dams.
    4. The proponent does not have Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) for the settling tanks that would be required during the proposed construction. The proponent’s plans they submitted previously for their ECA applications could not be implemented as these showed settling tanks on locations for which they do not have such permission.

Approvals – proposed operation
Before the proposed operation would be allowed, the proponent is required to obtain several additional approvals, such as the Permit to take water for operation, Amendment to the Muskoka River Water Management Plan, and the ECA for noise.

Bad situation
This proposed location is not suitable for this proposed project, for example:

  1. There would be head losses and therefore reduced power generation due to the:
    • 90° change of direction of water before entering the proposed intake.
    • The deflector wall required for this change of direction, as well as due to the support piers for both the Highway Bridge and CP Rail bridge.
    • Restricted intake excavation allowed, as the District would not permit excavation of their land under their Highway Bridge.
  2. The Mill Stream generating station apparently has first rights to take additional water from Lake Muskoka, this would reduce the profitability of the proposed project.
  3. Fishing is very popular in the area, and if one of these fishing noodles was to get accidentally drawn into the proposed intake, the section of construction rebar in it could cause months of downtime and millions of dollars of damage to the turbine.
    • Attempting to protect against such accidents by utilizing a trash rack with more closely spaced bars would result in greater head losses due to both the bars and the additional flotsam that would accumulate.
    • The proponent has spent years ignoring, alienating, and infuriating the community. Smart operators know you need to have good community relations to operate expensive machinery unattended.
    • The intake for the proposed generating station would be directly beside the sidewalk on the Highway Bridge.
  4. In 2015 the Township of Muskoka Lakes passed a resolution stating they are an unwilling host for this proposed project.
  5. In 2013 the proponent initiated a $3,000,000 lawsuit against the Township of Muskoka Lakes, the MNRF, and others, claiming defamation. The proponent has not done anything to substantiate or advance this legal action in the four years since, leaving it outstanding apparently as a threat.

    Nobody wants to work with those that initiate and prolong legal action against them.

  6. It would be unprecedented to locate a hydro-electric generating station in the middle of a very popular in-water recreational area and so close to pubic and private docks. As noted by the Lifesaving Society in their Aquatic Safety Audit Report for the Bala North Falls, plans to safely operate this proposed project should be presented to stakeholders and approved before any further approvals are provided, both to ensure they could be implemented and in case any design changes would be required.
  7. In 2011, Ontario Power Generating (the owner/operator of the two downstream hydro-electric generating stations) required the proponent sign an agreement that the proposed Bala generating station’s operation would be stopped and started to coordinate with the requirements of OPG’s downstream generating stations. The result is the proposed Bala generating station would need to be started at about noon on more than ⅓ summer days, and such cycling would be extremely dangerous to the nearby in-water recreational activities.
  8. In 2008 a 16-year-old boy drowned at the Wilson’s Falls generating station, which is about 40 km from the proposed Bala project. At an industry conference, Bracebridge Generation Ltd., the owner and operator of the Wilson’s Falls generating station reported that the drowning was due to the boy attempting to swim across the tailrace flow from their generating station.
    The proposed Bala generating station would:

    • Have more than ten times the flow of the Wilson’s Falls generating station.
    • Start, without warning, at about noon on summer days.
    • Be in an area far more popular for in-water recreation.

    As it appears that adequate safety measures could not be implemented in Bala, the location is not suitable for a hydro-electric generating station.

  9. The next provincial and municipal and elections are next year, which could create delays and uncertainty. In September 2016 the Ontario government cancelled the procurement of additional renewable energy generation.
  10. Private citizens do initiate lawsuits, as shown by current the action against the MNRF for the 2016 flooding of Lake Muskoka. Some residents of the Moon River may need to do the same if the dangerous situation which would be created is not properly addressed.
  11. According to Transport Canada’s method of calculating the required distance upstream of a hazard to locate a safety boom, the proponent’s proposed upstream safety boom would need to be relocated farther upstream. This would prevent the only boat rental business in the area from renting boats.
  12. Even if investors had limited liability, lawsuits due to the unaddressed dangers or injuries would result in long-term operating losses as the proposed generating station may not be allowed to operate while costs would continue; for the operation and maintenance of the Bala dams, for the insurance and maintenance of the equipment in the proposed generating station, and for the legal costs.

In summary, the construction of this proposed project would be a disaster for all involved.

Contact us
This article presents our observations and facts known to us. We would be pleased to answer questions and provide additional details. Contact us at

The proposed project would be so dangerous that it would not comply with the environmental approval

For their environmental assessment, the proponent both acknowledged the current in-water recreation and clearly showed that the only dangerous areas would be within their proposed safety booms. However, the proponent’s own flow simulation shows the dangerously-fast water from their proposed hydro-electric generating station would extend more than 160′ outside of their safety boom. As a result:

  • The proposed project to build a hydro-electric generating station at the Bala falls would not comply with the environmental approval.
  • Seeing the downstream safety boom, people would be deceived into thinking that is the only dangerous place, but the proponent’s own information shows the water would be just as dangerous outside as inside of it.
  • The public would not be warned before the proposed station’s operation would start – often at about noon on summer days – even though the MNRF’s procedures require such notification.

As the proposed project would not comply with the environmental approval, we request the MOECC to so notify the proponent.

Click below for an overview diagram, read more in this article, our July 2016 e-Newsletter is here, our August 2016 e-Newsletter is here, and more detail is in the articles to the right.

Unaddressed Public Safety Concerns

Our main concern about the proposed hydro-electric generating station at the Bala falls is public safety, which the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has stated they will consider as part of their upcoming assessment of the proponent’s application for Plans and Specifications approval for permanent works under the Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act. Here are eight particular concerns:

  1. The situation at the Bracebridge Falls would not apply
    The MNR assumes that because Bracebridge Generation Ltd. operates the Bracebridge Falls generating station that the proponent using Bracebridge Generation could operate the proposed Bala station safely. However, in Bracebridge:

    • There is a 110′-long concrete breakwater directing the flow away from the municipal docks. Bala would have no such protection.
    • The Bracebridge swimming area is 800′ away. But in Bala people would be swimming just a few feet away from the treacherously turbulent water exiting the proposed station.
    • The flow from the Bracebridge station is less than ⅓ of what it would be in Bala.
  2. The MNR incorrectly believes Bala’s in-water recreation could be stopped
    • The fast and extremely dangerous water exiting the proposed Bala station would continue at least 300′ downstream of the proposed station. The MNR’s warning sign on the Bala north dam would not apply that far and people couldn’t even see it at that distance. Photographs are posted here.
    • There are nearby public and private docks from which people have the right to enter the water and would expect that a “neighbour” has not made the adjacent water deadly.
    • Due to the private shoreline ownership downstream, fencing and “no swimming” signs could not be posted in the required locations to indicate areas of danger.
  3. Transport Canada’s approval is inadequate
    The MNR is depending on Transport Canada’s approval issued under the Navigation Protection Act, however:

    • This did not consider swimming, scuba diving and wading, as these are not within Transport Canada’s mandate or expertise.
    • This did not assess impacts to boating downstream, as the Navigation Protection Act excludes the Moon River from Transport Canada’s consideration.
    • Transport Canada assumed summer flows would be only 21 m³/s, as this is the average flow in July and August. However, the proposed Bala station would operate at full capacity about 21 days every summer – resulting in flows more than four times this.
      • Considering only the average flows from the proposed Bala station would be like building your house without a roof because it usually doesn’t rain.
  4. The drowning due to the Wilson’s Falls generating station
    In 2008 a 16-year-old boy drowned as a result of attempting to swim past the fast and turbulent flow from the Wilson’s Falls generating station (this is a few km north of Bracebridge):

    • While it is rare for people to be swimming at, or even visiting, Wilson’s Falls, Bala is an extremely popular in-water recreational area.
    • The flow from the proposed Bala station would be more than ten times that from the Wilson’s Falls generating station.
  5. The required cycling operation would make this even more dangerous
    Due to the required cycling operation, the proposed Bala station would start, automatically and without warning, at about noon on about ⅓ of summer days – just when people would be in the water only a few feet away.
  6. It would be unprecedented to build a hydro-electric generating station in the middle of an extremely popular in-water recreational area
    Visiting 32 hydro-electric generating stations in southern Ontario shows that:

    • None are located in the middle of an in-water recreational area, with directly adjacent boating, swimming, and scuba diving.
    • None have public and private docks as close.

    That is, it would be unprecedented to locate a hydro-electric generating station in the middle of a recreational area, yet the proponent has not shown how they would, or even if it would be possible to, operate the proposed Bala station safely.

  7. The Royal Lifesaving Society says a safety plan is needed now
    Despite these many in-water dangers, the proponent has not had a competent authority assist with required measures. So we commissioned the Royal Lifesaving Society, who are Canada’s lifeguarding experts, to assess the situation, and they found: “… this development would create an unusually and extremely dangerous situation, and therefore requires a commensurate level of planning … [which] should be started and completed before any construction proceeds, to both ensure it would be practical to implement, and so that any required changes could be incorporated into the design of the proposed station.”

  8. It would bankrupt Purk’s Place
    As shown by their Public Safety Measures Plan, the Ministry of Natural Resources uses a calculation from Transport Canada to determine the location required for the upstream safety boom. The location and dangers of the intake for the proposed Bala station would require the upstream safety boom to be relocated farther upstream. As a result, boats could not reach Purk’s Place docks, and this would shut down a key part of this important local business.

We have met directly with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry about these unaddressed public safety concerns and look forward to their reply and continued discussion.

Please keep this above concerns in mind when writing letters or explaining the current situation to others.

Some of our supporters …

Our concerns are shared by; 85% of the community, the Muskoka Lakes Association, the Moon River Property Owners’ Association, the Acton Island Association, the Wahta Mohawks First Nation, and the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario.

All our work is by volunteers, but sometimes we encounter expenses, such as for Freedom of Information requests. Donations are appreciated, details are here.

What is all this about

For over ten years a proponent has been pursing an opportunity to develop a hydro-electric generating station at the Bala falls (Bala is 25 km north-west of Gravenhurst and about two hours north of Toronto).

Anybody can visit Bala, and fish, or swim, or wade in the usually-serene Bala north falls for free. Even the parking is free. You can have a picnic in Margaret Burgess park, and there are restaurants, boat rentals, and interesting stores in within walking distance.

But the proposed generating station would change all that. Most of the public waterfront would be used by or made too dangerous by the proposed generating station. There would be fencing everywhere, 94% of the water would go through the proposed generating station leaving only a trickle over both Bala falls. There would be years of construction, and the proponent would clear-cut all the trees from the Heritage-designated Portage Landing just south of the proposed construction site. The proponent refuses to compromise, and has actually increased the size of the proposed generating station and changed to the far more dangerous cycling mode of operation.

We well understand that hydro-electric generating stations can be a very good source of energy as they don’t produce nasty emissions or waste, but there are many other environmental concerns.

In this situation, the problem is that despite years of asking, the proponent for the proposed station at the Bala falls will not answer our questions, such as:

  1. Would the proposed station be safe. This includes safe for the in-water recreation that has been part of Bala for over 100 years, such as swimming and boating upstream and downstream. And would it be safe for fish and not harm the fish habitat.
  2. Would the proposed station be beautiful, as this area is. The few drawings and renderings provided by the proponent have all had such major omissions and errors that they mislead rather than inform. And the proponent has not been able to confirm there would be no barbed-wire fencing or that there would not be warning sirens sounded daily.
  3. Would there be enough water over the north and south falls that people would continue to be drawn to Bala (nobody would come to see where the falls used to be). The proponent refuses to compromise and both falls would be reduced to a trickle throughout most of the year. This would be ruining the economy of Bala to provide a $100 million dollar subsidy to a private developer.

Here’s how you can help Save the Bala Falls …

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