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

Jan 282015

The quick answer is because if you ignore all the important details of the local economy and public safety, it would be the most desirable to develop.

Many wonder why would the Ministry of Natural Resources select Bala for a proposed hydro-electric generating station, given the many issues of public safety and  negative impact to the area’s economy. One answer is this 57-page report entitled Evaluation of Small Hydro Potential for Selected Dams owned by the Crown, for which the MNR commissioned Acres International, and which was completed in May 2000.

This analysis considered ten potential sites in Muskoka, and estimated the profitability of the five most suitable for development for generation of electrical power.

And as shown on page 8 (detailed analysis begins on page 27), the site that would produce the highest profits would be at the Bala falls. It is important to note that this analysis only estimated the costs of construction and expected revenue from the generation of electricity – aspects not considered include: negative economic impacts, disruption to in-water recreational activities, risks to public safety, or existing land uses such as portaging.

Interestingly, the conceptual drawing on page 35 (which, strangely, does not show the Muskoka Road 169 bypass which was built 35 years prior) of this report is the same drawing as the Bala proponent provided in their 2004 Statement of Qualifications. Perhaps not surprising then is that in this Statement of Qualifications, the proponent’s proposed development partner is the same Acres International (later bought by Hatch Ltd., who later did all of the environmental assessment work).

This unbalanced view of the situation continued as the Bala proponent was required by the Ministry of the Environment to provide an Economic Impact Study. As noted here, the report (also 57 pages) did not survey tourists as to why they visit or how much they spend, did not ask local businesses about any possible negative economic impacts. Clearly, not looking at the negative impacts could only produce a useless report, yet this was accepted by the Ministry of the Environment.

This misleading and simplistic view of hydro-electric power generation continued as the MNR commissioned a very detailed study completed in April 2012. This 63-page report is entitled Economic Impact of Waterpower Projects on Crown Lands in Ontario. While some type of  “purpose-built model” was developed, the assumptions were not disclosed. And again negative impacts were not considered. We therefore sent this letter to the MNR, and received this response. Remarkably, the MNR simply replies that providing a balanced view of the economic impact was “beyond the scope of this project”. This is beyond silly. The entire process claims to be logical, but in a classic government example of “form, not function”, has become a farce of ignoring any sound reasons why it should not proceed.

The MNR believes that the rules that apply to everyone else do not apply to them, for example:

  • When it was found that the proposed generating station would not comply with the requirement of Section 3 of the Public Lands Act (which requires at least 25% of the shoreline frontage of water bodies to be reserved for public access), the MNR provided a calculation which did not follow their policy (PL 3.02.01) written specifically for this calculation.
  • When the MNR asked for and received written historical proof that the Bala Portage has always been south of the Bala north falls, the MNR simply ignored this because the Ontario Office of the Surveyor General has no records of any portage routes in Bala (when clearly there would have been at least one somewhere).
  • The MNR accepted the alternate portage routes suggested by the proponent even though Transport Canada’s approval did not consider the land ownership or public safety concerns of these.
  • Even though the proposed generating station would create treacherously turbulent water just a few feet from a very popular in-water recreational area, the MNR simply says it would be the proponent’s responsibility “to ensure appropriate public safety measures”. The proponent just says they have “no plans for fencing”, but without asking their lawyers or insurance company what the required safety measures would be, that is a meaningless and misleading statement.


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