Bala Falls Hydro Project Working Committee
At the request of the proponent, the Township of Muskoka Lakes has established a Working Committee with the mandate to: “Identify and recommend ways to mitigate concerns raised by Council and the community.” This Committee is to vote on resolutions to bring forward to Township’s Committee of the Whole. It appears these are to be concessions from the Township which the proponent desperately wants to facilitate their proposed construction, the first one being to widen the shoulder of Muskoka Road 169, which would:
- Require two long rows of concrete “Jersey Barriers”.
- Require blocking-off the pedestrian sidewalk on the west side of Muskoka Road 169.
- Create a 10′-high retaining wall, and to keep people from falling off this, a fence would also be needed (and this would block people’s view of Portage Landing and the Moon River).
- Have the result that for two years the proponent would be parking trucks and construction vehicles in front of Portage Landing, to off-load construction materials.
The proponent has not disclosed how this ugliness and inconvenience to Bala would “mitigate concerns raised by Council and the community”. The proponent has not provided any information about the appearance of this retaining wall or fence, nor have they disclosed what they will be asking for next. They still haven’t provided any credible information on the appearance of their entire proposed generating station.
We think that Township Council should require a full plan from the proponent of what they want, rather than putting up with a series of requests without knowing where this is all going. We therefore presented this to Township Council’s Committee of the Whole on March 12, 2015. Unfortunately, the Township did not accept any of our concerns and passed the Working Committee’s resolution to support widening the shoulder of Muskoka Road 169 even though it wasn’t clear what the benefit of this would be or what it would even require.
- The community is not allowed to observe or attend the Working Committee meetings and the community is not allowed to directly e-mail input to the Committee either – even though community concerns are the Committee’s mandate.
- Two of the six voting members of the Committee are the proponent, so they get to vote for themselves and to out-vote the only local Councillor – and this for a Committee whose mandate is community input. Where have you ever heard of a government committee where a developer gets to vote for themselves and out-vote the local Councillor. Last I checked, government was supposed to be for the people, not private developers.
- It isn’t clear how the proponent can possibly be contributing “concerns raised by Council and the community” (as is the Committee’s mandate). Also, another voting member of the Committee is the Township’s Chief Administrative Officer – it also isn’t clear how a Township employee can possibly be contributing “concerns raised by Council and the community”.
- According to its mandate then, this Committee would be telling Council what Council’s concerns are – one would think Council would know what its own concerns are without having to ask the proponent’s Committee what to think. Maybe we’re just too cynical, but it seems that this Committee is a way to avoid public input and for the proponent to feed their desires directly to Township Council.
Mayor Furniss assures us that public input is allowed, as the Committee’s recommendations are made to the Township’s Committee of the Whole, to which the public can request to “delegate” (this means that at least seven business days before the Committee of the Whole meeting, a member of the public can request to present to Council for five minutes, perhaps at 10:00 am on a Tuesday, whether that is convenient for you or not).
The problem is that for the March 12, 2015 Committee of the Whole meeting the deadline to delegate was several days before the minutes from the first three Working Committee meetings were available and before the Council agenda was published. So there was no way for the public to know whether the Working Committee would be making any recommendations, whether any of the issues discussed by the Working Committee were of concern, or whether the entire proposed project was even on that Committee of the Whole’s meeting Agenda. Also, a document from the proponent which was referred to in those minutes is still not available to the public. In summary, it appears that the Township’s Committee of the Whole is not interested in public input either.
An observer of all these goings-on might think that the Township’s Working Committee is a Kangaroo Court, of predetermined purpose and output. We do, and our presentation to Township Council is here, and a more detailed article is here. Mayor Furniss’ explanation of why he did not like what he was hearing is here (archive copy here).
Community Input to Working Committee
Councillor Sandy Currie understands the importance of community input to the Township’s Working Committee and he is eager to receive this. Please e-mail Councillor Currie at SandyCurrieemail@example.com with your concerns about the proposed hydro-electric generating station at the Bala falls, as this will be your best opportunity to provide input to the Working Committee. Send as much input and be as detailed as you can, and try to organize it according to the following categories:
- Safety / Water Levels
- Use of Township lands
- Community improvements
- Construction activity
- Economic impact
- Traffic flow and pedestrian safety
- Visual impacts
- Heritage impacts
So far, there have been three Working Committee meetings, and there are two more scheduled, the next being on Thursday March 26, 2015, so send Sandy your e-mail in the next day or two.
Councillor Phil Harding
Township of Muskoka Lakes District Councillor Phil Harding is passionate about saving the Bala falls and ensuring the proper process is followed. At the Township’s Committee of the Whole meeting March 12, 2015 he had this to say. Thanks to Troy Cockriell for the video.
Drone video from Scott Miller
Scott Miller has shared some video with us here.