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

Aug 012014

Margaret Burgess Park Would be Fenced-Off

When we have noted to the Ministry of Natural Resources that the treacherously-turbulent water exiting the proposed hydro-electric generating station at the Bala falls would be extremely dangerous to the in-water recreation at the base of the Bala north falls. The MNR says “It is commonly recognized that swimming, wading or other water‐based activities below a water control structure such as the Bala North dam are not advisable recreational practices”.

The photograph below was taken below the Bala north dam. Obviously it can be safe playing in the water below the Bala north dam. Nothing here can change suddenly. This is exactly what draws people to Bala and why the Bala falls are famous. This is an important factor in the local economy. This is natural. This is an experience to be remembered for a lifetime. This is Canada, this is an important part of our culture. And being able to judge natural water features to be safe is an important part of growing up.

And as shown by the photograph below, being able to sit on natural rock, with a clear view of a beautiful river is also what draws people to Bala. Unlike most every other waterfalls in the area, the Bala Falls are accessible, there is an adjacent road and park, there is parking, there are shops and restaurants. This is important to be maintained.

The MNR states that it would be the proponent’s responsibility “to ensure appropriate public safety measures are in place as they relate to the flows”. Given the dangerous flows from the proposed generating station direclty adjacent to the Bala falls, there is only one way to try to make this safe – put a fence around Margaret Burgess Park to prevent people from accessing the water.

As shown in the photograph below, for a long time there has been fencing all around the Bracebridge Falls (the generating station there has only ⅓ of the flow of that proposed for Bala, and is operated by the same company that would operate the proposed Bala generating station – so they certainly understand how to put concrete and fencing on natural rock, and believe it is necessary).

Therefore, the proponent’s current plans would require that all of Margaret Burgess Park be fenced-off to prevent people from accessing the water. This would be ugly, it would permanently remove a main draw of people to Bala and reduce the benefit of tourism to the local economy.

Quick Current Summary

  • Ignoring many serious questions of public safety, law, and process, it was announced in January 2013 that the Minister of the Environment would not vary his Director’s decision. So for now, the proponent has one of the many approvals they would need to proceed with their proposed Alternative 1A, which they claim could be built solely on the Crown land south of the north Bala Falls, and which would be substantially closer to, and angled towards the in-water recreational area at the base of the North Falls.
  • There are many other approvals needed – from all four levels of government and from other organizations as well.
  • A significant approval needed from the Ministry of Natural Resources is Location Approval, under the Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act. One major issue is that the traditional and historic portage through Bala has been shown to be over the Crown land south of the north falls (detail here and here), and information from both the MNR and proponent have confirmed the existence of this portage route. The proposed hydro-electric generating station would obstruct this portage, and blocking a portage that “has existed or exists” is not allowed under the Public Lands Act. Remarkably, the provincial government feels that such rules do not apply to them, and they can just declare the land unsafe, and somehow they no longer need to protect the portage.

Recent Development
Now it gets interesting

On January 23, 2013, the Ministry of the Environment released the decision that the Minister of the Environment decided not to vary his Director’s decision which denied our many requests that the proposed project to build a hydro-electric generating station at the Bala Falls requires elevation to address many significant and serious issues. Our observations include:

  1. This is just one of many approvals this proposed project would need, these from all four levels of government and from other organizations as well. We will continue to highlight the safety, economic and other concerns.
  2. The decisions made by the Minister of the Environment avoided addressing many major issues of law, some of these decisions were based on information from the Ministry of Natural Resources.
  3. The Ontario Liberal government’s process is backwards, in that once they select an “Applicant of Record” to develop a site, they feel there a committment to provide all subsequent environmental and other approvals regardless of how unsuitable the site may then be found to be. So rather than first checking whether a project can be done safely to the environment and people, a developer is selected and the politicians then override all fact, science, and policy for fear of being sued or scaring away developers from future projects.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, contact us at

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