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

Apr 022012
 

Summary

Please write an e-mail to the Ministry of the Environment if you agree with us that their environmental assessment of the proposed hydro-electric generating station at the Bala Falls must be restarted as:

  • The project proposed has been completely changed.
  • Much of the information the proponent has submitted is now incorrect, contradictory or superceded.
  • There has been no public consultation – meaningful or otherwise – on the proponent’s “new proposal” which is to replace their proposed and now abandoned Option 2. All that we know of this new proposal is that it apparently could be built solely on Crown land and that the process followed has not yet shown us any details.
  • The proponent’s government lobbyist was apparently allowed to meet with senior staff at the Ministry of the Environment – the same staff deeply involved with this proposed project – during this crucial decision time.

Over the years of developments and changes for this proposed project, adherance to the required process has gone from marginal to unacceptable. There is now a complete lack of fairness and transparency. The environmental assessment process requires better.

Additional details are below. If you wish, e-mail the Minister of the Environment, The Honourable James J. Bradley, at JBradley.mpp@liberal.ola.org noting the government requires an “accountable, logical and reproducible process of decision making” but for this particular environmental assessment there is an  unacceptable lack of due process.

And as always, if you have any questions or comments, or to copy us on any e-mails you send, we are at info@SaveTheBalaFalls.com

 

Detail

In our democratic society, government due process and transparency are important, and in fact specified to be required for enironmental assessments, yet we find:

  • In 2009 the proponent submitted an environmental screening report for their Option 2 proposal, and even though they have announced their abandoning of this Option 2 proposal, the proponent has not withdrawn their environmental screening report and in fact the Ministry of the Environment staff continue to spend time on it, determined to confirm their approval of it.
  • As shown by the additional documents the proponent was required to submit, the environmental screening report was deficient. Some information in the additional documents supercedes that in previous additional documents and also in the environmental screening report, yet it is not clear to most everyone what currently applies and what does not. It is a confusing mess.
  • Then on top of this, the proponent changed to cycling operation, and then they changed the site, location, orientation, and technology – making even more of the confusing mess of documents obsolete and out-of-date. For example, we have itemized 133 Sections, Tables, and Figures in the environmental screening report which are now factually incorrect and require rewriting.
  • The public has never been presented with information on the proponent’s as-yet-undescribed “new proposal” other than it could apparently be built solely on Crown land. Such a proposal has never been presented to the public:
    • Not at either of the public information centres (in 2007 and 2008).
    • Nor in the environmental screening report.
    • As all of the drawings presented showed that both Crown and municipal land would be required for all options (even for “Option 1”). Whatever the proponent may next propose would be a new proposal for which there has been no public consultation. Meaningful public consultation is a fundamental aspect of the required environmental assessment process.
  • While the public has not been able to get any feedback from the Ministry of the Environment on what issues are delaying their decision (or what information may be helpful to provide to assist with this decision), we understand that not only is the proponent able to meet with senior staff at the Ministry of the Environment, but the proponent’s hired lobbyist was also able to meet directly with senior staff at the Ministry of the Environment. Obviously, this would not be to discuss technical and science issues. This political interference alone should be cause to declare that the environmental assessment process has been corrupted and must be restarted. This is not a democratic and transparent process, this is wrong. As documented in Section 3.2.3 of the Ministry of the Environment’s Preparing and Reviewing Environmental Assessments in Ontario, it is required that the process be “open and transparent”, and the process be “clear, rational and logical”.

The environmental assessment process for this proposed project is dictated by the Guide to Environmental Assessment Requirements for Electricity Projects, which notes this is to be “an accountable, logical and reproducible process of decision making”. The only way this could now be achieved would start with the Ministry of the Environment rejecting the environmental screening report and subsequent documents, and restarting this environmental assessment, beginning with a public information centre for the project actually being proposed.

 

Background

The proponent for this proposed hydro-electric generating station at the Bala Falls released their environmental screening report on October 14, 2009 and by the public comment deadline of November 27, 2009, the public noted many significant deficiences and therefore requested that this proposed project be elevated to require an individual environmental assessment. On March 28, 2011 (that is, 16 months later) the Director of the Environmental Assessment and Approvals Branch informed us of her decision to deny these requests for elevation.

By the required deadline of April 18, 2011, a large number of requests were sent by the public to the Minister of the Environment to review the Director’s decision (this is somewhat like an appeal process).

While there is a goal that the Minister will make a decision on these requests within 45 days (which was June 20, 2011), this appeal decision is still under review by the Minister. One complexity was that the October 6, 2011 Ontario provincial election resulted in a new Minister of the Environment.

During the last 18 months the proponent has made two particularly significant decisions which have fundamentally changed the proposed project, as follows:

  1. In December 2010, the proponent agreed to change the operating regime of the proposed project to use a cycling operation; at least during the summer months, and at least up to 1/3 of the proposed station’s capacity. The many negative environmental and public safety impacts of this major change have still not been addressed by the proponent.
  2. In the October 19, 2011 edition of the Gravenhurst Banner, the proponent placed an advertisement announcing they were abandoning pursuing their proposed Option 2 (our comments are here), and would instead be pursuing some new proposal which they claim could be built solely on the Crown land directly south of the north dam. Note that the public has not been presented with information on a proposal that would fit solely on Crown land – not in the environmental screening report, and not in either of the public information centres the proponent held in 2007 and 2008.

The current status is that the proponent hopes their environmental screening report and other submissions for their proposed Option 2 will be accepted and the proponent hopes that by submitting an Addendum, they could fulfill their environmental assessment obligations for their new proposal. However, environmental assessment would be based on the following:

  1. An environmental screening report which is over 600 pages in length and for which we have detailed over 50 pages of deficiences. And as a result of the above two changes, as detailed here, 133 Sections, Tables, and Figures of the environmental screening report are now incorrect and require rewriting.
  2. The proponent then issued a Letter of Intent replacing some of the fish habitat information. We did not find this adequate, but in any case, this has been made obsolete by the proponent’s subsequent decision to use cycling operation (see d. below).
  3. The proponent then provided an economic impact study which was found to be completely deficient (more here) by a peer review.
  4. The proponent then released a brief letter concerning their proposed cycling operation, this replaces some of the replaced fish habitat and other information. This document was completely deficient (more here and here).

And on top of this mess of deficient documents from which nobody could figure out which information is superceded, augmented, incorrect, or obsolete, the proponent expects to layer on an Addendum for some new proposal which would have a different:

  1. Site (rather than building the powerhouse, driveway, and retaining wall on municipal land, it would all be built solely on Crown land).
  2. Location (rather than the construction being more than 65′ from the north dam, they would need to blast down into the Muskoka bedrock a 60′-deep intake channel directly adjacent to both; the north dam – which is over 100 years old, and the support piers for the highway bridge – which have been there for 57 years).
  3. Orientation (the dangerously fast and turbulent water exiting the tailrace would be directed directly past the recreational area at the bottom of the north falls, and towards the public docks on the Moon River – making marine navigation there difficult and dangerous).
  4. Technology (while the environmental screening report only analyzed fish mortality and other negative environmental impacts for a single horizontal turbine, the proponent has stated they may instead use two vertical turbines – which would substantially increase fish mortality, also there would be a signficant risk of flooding Lake Muskoka during construction).
  5. Operating regime (the proponent would now operate the proposed station in a cycling operation, and they have not analyzed the many public safety, fish and shoreline habitat, and marine navigational impacts of this – for example, just downstream in Gaunt Bay there is an officially-desginated area of natural and scientific interest, as confirmed in Section 2.1.8 and Figure 2.6 of the environmental screening report, yet the proponent has not provided information on how their proposed cycling operation would affect this).

 

Conclusion

Therefore, as detailed here, in the links above, and in the other items posted at SaveTheBalaFalls.com, due process has not been followed. A science- and fact-based environmental assessment of the proponent’s new proposal cannot be based on the information submitted and process followed to date.

The only way forward is to reject the proponent’s information submitted and require that the environmental assessment process be restarted, beginning with a public information centre which would present – for the first time – the proponent’s new proposal.

If you are as concerned about this apparent disregard for procedure, you may wish to e-mail your concerns to:

The Honourable James J. Bradley
Minister of the Environment
77 Wellesley Street West
11th Floor, Ferguson Block
Toronto, ON  M7A 2T5
JBradley.mpp@liberal.ola.org

If you have any questions or comments, please contact us at info@SaveTheBalaFalls.com

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