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

Jul 262014
 

Summary

The proponent’s current plans are to obstruct the historic and traditional Bala Portage between the Moon River and Lake Muskoka. Transport Canada and others claim there are other, perhaps even safer, alternatives. However there are major problems with each:

  • The River Street route requires paddling under the Muskoka Road 169 bridge over Burgess Creek and as the opening is narrow, the water speed is too fast for many to safely paddle upstream.
  • The Portage Street route requires a 90° turn at Muskoka Road 169 and if there’s a parked car at this turn, your canoe extends into the southbound lane of traffic.
  • The Margaret Burgess Park route would not be possible as it would be fenced-off during construction, and apparently during operation as well.

More concerns are below.

 

Detail

In a letter dated September 18, 2012, concerning the proposed hydro-electric generating station in Bala, and under the heading “Portage”, Transport Canada stated:

  • “The revised [Alternative 1A proposal] will impact the downstream side portage trail adjacent to the north falls, however, there are reasonable alternatives to this trail including what we consider as the primary portage through the Municipal public lands/park to the North of the falls and utilizng the downstream public park and dock as a put in/take out location.”
  • “Downstream it is quite likely that a new access trail/path may, over time, result on the municipal lands south of the proposed [generating station] – as it is the shortest distance from upstream to downstream. The slope there is similar to the existing path, which is considered as very steep and not the [Transport Canada] recommended portage.”

The above appears to have several errors or misunderstandings, specifically:

  • “the Municipal public lands/park to the North of the falls”, perhaps this refers to Margaret Burgess Park, which is to the north of the falls, but is actually owned by the Ministry of Natural Resources.
  • “downstream public park and dock”, perhaps this refers to the Town Docks on the Moon River, but there is no public park there (and the MNR refuses to refer to Margaret Burgess Park as a park).
  • “The slope there is similar to the existing path”, no the slope on the Township land is much steeper than on the Crown land, and it is not possible to portage a canoe at this suggested alternate location.

That is, Transport Canada seems to simply not understand the area, which certainly indicates they never portaged a canoe in any of the locations they suggest. Their recommendations therefore are not credible. This is exactly why it is important that Transport Canada be required to accept public input as part of their assessment of the proponent’s application under the Navigation Protection Act.

In any case, the only possible portages through Bala are as shown below (click for a larger view).

Each of the above labelled possible portage routes is evaluated below.

  1. River Street, problems include:
    • As the opening under the Muskoka Road 169 bridge over Burgess Creek is quite narrow, when the Burgess Creek generating station is running, the water under the bridge is too fast for weaker or inexperienced paddlers to canoe through, especially upstream. YMCA Camp Pine Crest (in Torrance) has stated that this section of fast water is so dangerous that they do not permit their canoe trips to use this route in either direction.
    • It is not known who owns the portage landing site upstream of the Burgess Creek generating station.
    • The upstream safety boom for the Burgess Creek generating station is too close to the generating station, is not the required current design, and is not designed to facilitate self-rescue (that is, it does not angle towards a safe shore).
    • There is no shoulder on River Street, so it is dangerous to portage canoes along the road.
  2. Portage Street, problems include:
    • The route between Portage Street and the Moon River passes over private property, so this cannot be considered a public portage. In addition, River Street has never been conveyed to the municipality, so it isn’t clear whether portaging is allowed anywhere along the street.
    • The road has no sidewalks or even a shoulder, and there are buildings directly beside Portage Street, so portaging must be on the road. And at Muskoka Road 169, one must either walk between parked cars or make a 90° turn, so one’s canoe must extend into the southbound lane of Muskoka Road 169 when making this turn. This is dangerous.
    • Muskoka Road 169 curves just north of the Portage Street intersection, so it is not possible for portagers to see cars approaching from the north and vice versa. This is dangerous.
    • Canoes must be portaged along Muskoka Road 169, which has a speed limit of 50 km/h. The backdraft from large trucks travelling at this speed could spin around canoes being portaged, which would be very dangerous.
    • One cannot portage alongside the Bala north channel because the CPR rail bridge is too low.
    • If the proposed generating station was built, the Bala Bay end of the portage would have water currents drawing canoes into the station’s intake, which would be dangerous.
    • During the summer, there are usually many motorboats at and near Bala Wharf, so it is better for canoes to be away from this area.
  3. Margaret Burgess Park, problems include:
    • Climbing up the rocks while portaging a canoe would be dangerous.
    • From the water flow simulation information provided by the proponent, it appears that canoeing in front of Margaret Burgess Park would be difficult and dangerous, due to the fast water which would often be exiting from the proposed generating station.
    • One cannot portage alongside the Bala north channel because the CPR rail bridge is too low.
    • During the summer, there are usually many motorboats at and near Bala Wharf, so it is better for canoes to be away from this area.
    • If the proposed generating station was built:
      • During construction, Margaret Burgess Park would be used for equipment and materials storage, so could not be used for portaging.
      • During operation, there would apparently be a fence along the shore of Margaret Burgess Park, so it would not be possible to portage. And the Bala Bay end of the portage would be just upstream of the station’s 40′-deep intake, which would be an dangerous area.
  4. The Bala Portage, as documented (for example herehere, and here), the traditional and historic Bala Portage has always been south of what is now called the Bala north falls.
    As documented here, the exact route (somewhere between the Bala north falls and the Bala south channel) would have changed over the years due to the construction of the railway in 1907 and the highway bypass in 1965. Until the MNR’s May 2013 restriction on the public using the Crown land, for at least the last 50 years, the Bala Portage route between A and 1 (shown above) was used. Note the following:
    • This is the shortest, simplest, most direct route, with dirt surfaces on either side of the road as that causes the least damage if the canoe needs to be put down or rested while repositioning one’s shoulders.
    • This is the safest route, as:
      • It does not require walking along any roads.
      • There is ample room to wait beside the road and there is a clear view down the straight section of Muskoka Road 169 in both directions to be sure it is safe to cross.
      • There are no parked cars to obstruct the view in either direction.
      • The road is directly crossed, not on an angle or requiring a turn.
    • If the proposed generating station was built, the end-point beside Purk’s Place (at 1) would be just upstream of the 40′-deep intake, which would be an extremely dangerous place to be, so this should not be used.
    • Diver’s Point (end-point at 2) could be used as an alternate to 1, but the Bala Falls Road underpass below the CPR railway is very narrow and is also used by cars, so this would be dangerous.
    • If the proposed generating station was built, then the portage route to the Moon River would be obstructed. A safe alternative has not been proposed.

Comments from people who have used each of these possible portage routes are welcome.

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