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

Jan 032015
 

The Ministry of Natural Resources started this entire process by issuing a Request for Qualifications for Waterpower Generation Development Opportunities at MNR Dam Structures, on November 10, 2004. As a result, the proponent submitted a Statement of Qualifications the following month (click on all these images for a larger view).

As shown below, Figure 4.1 of this document suggested a possible layout.

What is surprising is this drawing does not show the Muskoka Road 169 highway bypass that was completed in 1965, 40 years prior! It also shows that the proponent was planning on building a substantial part of the project on land not owned by the MNR. Apparently neither of these major problems were of concern to the MNR, as on March 7, 2005 the MNR mailed a letter to the proponent informing them that they “met the qualification threshold”.

As a result, in July 2005 the proponent submitted their proposal.

As shown below, Figure 2.1 of this proposal included an updated drawing of the proposed project.

While the drawing does properly show the Muskoka Road 169 highway bypass, it still shows the proponent would build on land to which they had no rights. That the MNR did not object to this and on August 9, 2005 send a letter to the proponent notifying them that they had been awarded Applicant of Record status, shows that the MNR did not know where the property boundary to the Crown land was either.

The drawing below shows the Crown land property boundaries.

Apparently, the MNR did not know the property boundaries of the land they were releasing.

  4 Responses to “Wrong from the start”

  1. Visited site today, Jan 27 2015,

    Is there some amazing reason why the whole thing could not be fed from the South Dam via the existing spillway in some manner and the entire plant could be partially underground so that the actual falls and park area could be essentially left alone? Other than use of Municipal land and some extra cost to construct, at first glance I see no good reason for all the fuss about placing the plant where Swift River proposes.

    By the way, could the media please find out and publish who exactly is Swift River? Who are their principals? Do they plan to “run the plant” or contract this part out and be absentee landlords? How much money do they propose that this plant will make per year? What rate per kwh is the government going to be paying them? For how long? How much of the gross income is going to be sent “back to the town of Bala” each year? It would make some sense that since the area is going to be permanently altered (and maybe not all to the positive) that some of the income the project generates should be going back to the community to be used to improve and beautify the area over the coming years. Sort of a way of rewarding the community for their support.

    Better yet, and maybe more to the point, If we really need this energy why the heck is a private outfit like Swift River in there at all? Should it not be our “public servant” Ontario Hydro, who is building these little power plants around the Province? This is how we started out with hydro electric energy in Ontario and it worked well then so why can it not work well now? Sir Adam Beck, the effective founder of electrical distribution in Canada, indeed North America, had a motto that essentially stated “power to the people at cost”. Is this not still the mandate of our Hydro One, Ontario Hydro, Ontario Power Generation or whatever the government of the day chooses to call it? If not it should be!
    This looks like a classic case of “non thought” by civil servants followed quickly by a truckload of “buck passing” to try to blame someone else. If you hire enough consultants and surveyors and divide the land into small enough and confusing enough chunks eventually the public might just give up any effort to understand the issues and let the project go ahead as it is.

    This is not what should be done here. Bala is a beautiful little town with a long heritage and a unique position. If our governments indeed work for us then this whole project should be rethought from the very beginning and built so as to benefit our community and Province to the maximum extent over the future while creating a minimal disruption to the historical structure of the area. This can be done, maybe for a little more cash at the front end, but it can and should be the way it is done. We don’t need the equivalent of the 407 debacle repeated here with Swift River. We need a Provincial government with some brains and guts in this regard and we further need for all levels of government to work together on this and so far, we don’t seem to have this happening effectively. Too bad as this situation could be made much better!

    • Hello Brian, excellent post.

      In 2008 or so there was much effort trying to get the proponent to seriously consider a “south channel option”. The proponent’s official response is in Section 3.5.6.1 of their 2009 Environmental Screening/Review report, which you can view here. The public’s suggestion was that the generating station could be at the north end of the Precambrian Shield parking lot and the tailrace would be along the rip-rap to the west of Muskoka Road 169, just south of the south channel. The proponent had several reasons for not pursuing this (difficulty of construction, interference with CPR bridge, land ownership issues), but the main reason is that is not the opportunity that was offered to them from the Ministry of Natural Resources. This entire process was initiated by the MNR who desperately want to off-load the responsibility and expense of maintaining water levels and doing minor maintenance on the Bala north and south dams, so they offer a deal; proponent gets some land and water and a highly subsidized rate for power generated guaranteed by the province for at least 40 years, and in return proponent finances the construction and operates the station.

      The problem is the MNR only owns land at the north channel, not the south channel, so the MNR can’t offer this deal for a generating station in the south channel. If the propoent truly wanted to pursue a project in the south channel, they could, but it would need to be on their own initiative to try to get use of that land. And in any case, a south channel option is not the deal the MNR offered. We quite agree, that with some cost and effort, the proposed project could have much less impact, but the proponent has never offered to make any changes for the community’s benefit, only for their own.

      Swift River Energy Limited was created to pursue this one opportunity, they have no assets, no operations, and no employees. The co-founders were John Wildman and Paul Fisher, who are still Directors, but do not appear to be very involved now. For many years, most of the funding and direction appears to be from Anthony Zwig, who is the President of the parent company, Horizon Legacy and of several other related companies. None of these people have ever attended a presentation or other public event on this proposed project.

      The proponent has said they would contract out the operation of the proposed generating station to Bracebridge Generation, who currently operate several other hydro-electric generating stations in Muskoka. Bracebridge Generation is owned by Lakeland Holding Ltd., which is owned by the Town of Bracebridge, Town of Huntsville and four other towns.

      A calculation of the revenue to this proposed generating station is at http://savethebalafalls.com/?p=3558.

      Even when the proposed generating station was planned to be partially on municipal land, the proponent never provided any detail of how much they would offer for this. In fact, the proponent has done more reneging than offering, as detailed at http://savethebalafalls.com/?p=4824 (they have offered a one-time payment for destroying the heritage-designated Portage Landing during their proposed construction, but they have never offered any on-going revenue stream).

      Provincial government projects usually run over budget and the government doesn’t have much money to finance construction work anyways, so they decided to off-load the construction of smaller generating stations to the private sector by offering long-term subsidized rates through a series of programs called the Feed-In Tariff (FIT). Ontario Power Generation was not even allowed to bid on such projects, as their lower cost of financing would discourage private industry from bidding against them (though this may change with the new Large Renewable Procurement the government is now planning). The problem is that in an attempt to keep encouraging such private developers, the government’s claims of actually assessing the environmental and economic impacts of such proposals has become a farce and a facade.

      It has now been over 10 years since the MNR initiated this process and this particular proposed project has taken a huge amount of time from the government, proponent, and community. This process has been so long and complicated, that most of the public is weary from trying to follow it. The proponent has been extremely difficult to deal with all the way, their responses are evasive, they rarely update their web site (it is currently several months since they have changed anything), they have only held two public meetings in the 10 years they have been pursuing this opportunity, and their lack of respect for the community is insulting.

      The government keeps repeating this is a “proponent-driven process”, so the government supports the proponent, who does what they want, with no obligation to actually make changes due to input from the public. So the process becomes adversarial, and slow, and frustrating for all involved.

  2. This is proof positive that the officials at the MNR, and the Minister’s involved, had never seen the site themselves, and rather just randomly picked a site based on some documentation found in a random place. Amazing how people who sit in ivory towers, have no idea of the consequences of their decisions, nor do they care. There are none so blind, as those who will not see.

  3. Appalling negligence on our elected Government’s behalf and should be corrected ASAP. Too many hardships and money and valued time of those trying to ‘Save The Falls,’that never needed
    Saving!

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