Margaret Burgess Park would be fenced-off forever
In a very sad and clear example of how the required public consultation for the proposed hydro-electric generating station at the Bala Falls has been a complete failure, after nine years during which the proponent has been pursuing their proposed project, only now do we find that the proponent would fence-off the full width of Margaret Burgess Park forever. So it would no longer be possible to climb down the rocks or touch the water, and there would be an ugly fence across the beautiful and natural Muskoka rock.
As shown in the photograph below, it is clear that:
- In the summer, it is usually safe to be in the water below the north falls.
- Being able to get to the water is important to the area’s economy, as the public accessibility of the Muskoka waterfront at the Bala north falls is unique, and a main reason why people visit Bala again and again.
- Visitors will continue to try and enjoy Bala’s natural beauty.
But without warning, the remotely- and automatically-controlled proposed generating station would often start at about noon on summer days, so it would suddenly become extremely dangerous to be where these people are.
Did you know that a required part of the process to build a proposed generating station at the Bala falls is that the proponent would get control of:
- Margaret Burgess Park (north of the Bala north falls, as shown below) AND
- The Crown land south of the north falls (where the proposed generating station would be built) AND
- Diver’s Point (the land between the south dam and the CPR railway tracks, sometimes called Legris Park) AND
- The grassy portage area between Purk’s Place and District Road 169.
This is most of the publically-accessible shoreline in Bala, and the private developer would get control of these parcels of public land forever (as the MNR states the land lease can continue “in perpetuity”).
The Ministry of Natural Resources has stated: “it would be the direct responsibility of Swift River Energy Limited to ensure appropriate public safety measures are in place as they relate to flows above and below a waterpower facility and associated MNR Bala North Dam. As has been stated, any in-water activity such as wading within the cascade or discharge area immediately below the Bala North Dam is commonly recognized as an unsafe practice and is not advisable. Although such activities are not prohibited, people recreating in this area do so at their own risk”.
So here’s the problem. The proponent must operate the station safely, but those darn people, those tourists, those people bringing their tourist dollars to Bala would likely be drowned by the treacherously-turbulent water exiting the proposed generating station. What to do.
We initially thought this was an impossible situation. But it is now clear that that the proponent would simply fence-off Margaret Burgess Park forever, just as Bracebridge Falls is fenced off, as shown below. At Bracebridge Falls nobody touches the water, they just look at it while standing on a concrete or steel platform behind a fence.
The provincial government believes there has been “extensive public consultation“, however, in the ten years the proponent has been pursuing their proposed project there has been exactly two public meetings held by the proponent, both for proposals which they have since abandoned. This is a complete lack of public consultation. The proponent has never:
- Held a public meeting to present their currently-proposed design, which could apparently be built solely on Crown land (such a design was never presented in either of the proponent’s public meetings).
- Justified their claim that the riparian rights of the downstream landowners would not be infringed (given it would become difficult and dangerous to dock one’s boat at the public and private docks downstream, as shown here).
- Told the public they would fence off Margaret Burgess Park.
It is apparent that the provincial processes have failed to meet required goals, such as for:
- “the proponent to identify and address public concerns and issues and to provide the public with an opportunity to receive information about and make meaningful input into the project review and development.”
- “Consultation is necessary for the proponent to address the concerns of adjacent property owners”
- “The consultation program must provide appropriate opportunities and forums for the public to participate in the screening process”
Clearly, this has not happened, so we look forward to the Township of Muskoka Lakes continuing to take strong actions – as they were elected to do – to ensure that the proposed project would:
- Be safe.
- Be beautiful, as the area is.
- Allow enough water over the Bala falls to continue to draw people to Bala.