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

Jul 122015
 

Summary
Many of you recently received one or two letters from government Ministries concerning the proposed project to build a hydro-electric generating station at the Bala Falls.

Unfortunately these letters do not provide the full story, as the proponent; still does not have all required approvals for either construction or operation, and still has not addressed major issues.

The earliest the proponent could start real destruction/construction (that is, not just site preparation) is June 2016 – about a year from now. So we’ll keep working to save the Bala falls, and we are supercharged; by the fantastic fundraising results, by the great turn-out at the Township’s special Council meeting last week, and by your continued concerns about the bullying and abusive behavior by the proponent.

This proposed project has too many risks and dangers, and would be bad for the community and bad for the proponent’s investors. There are two ways it can be cancelled without the proponent having any rights to claim any costs or expenses they may have incurred. Now is the time for the Ontario government to cancel.

Detail
Letters from Ministries
Many of you will have recently received this letter from the Ministry of Natural Resources and this letter from the Ministry of the Environment (and thank you to so many of you for forwarding to us the letters you received, it is always helpful to track the Ministries’ messaging).

The Ministry of the Environment’s letter states they agree with the proponent’s assertion that the many changes the proponent has made to their plans are “minor and that no further study is required”.

The Ministry of Natural Resources’ letter states that the MNR has “finalized and issued documents (including occupational authority and work permits) that allow SREL to now begin Phase 1 construction on the associated Crown lands. This work includes installation of the upstream and downstream coffer dams and the construction of intake and water channel structures of the facility, as well as any fencing or tree removal required to facilitate construction”.

The above may be true enough, but there is much more to the issue, for example:

  1. Major work cannot start until after June 1, 2016!
    • The municipality may allow the proponent’s requested shoulder widening after Cranberry Festival weekend. And the proponent may be allowed to cut down the trees and remove some dirt from the proposed construction site.
    • But the proponent will not be allowed to begin any in-water construction work, such as installing cofferdams or doing any excavaton until after June 1, 2016.

    If need be, we will be continuing our work to save the Bala falls until then, and after then. We’re here to save the Bala falls, no matter how long it takes.
     

  2. Proponent does not have MNR approval to build their proposed hydro-electric generating station. The MNR’s letter says the proponent can “now begin Phase 1 construction” – which is preparing the site for the actual construction (removing topsoil, building cofferdams, and installing a tower crane). That is, the proponent does not have approval for any Phase 2 work (which would be the excavation and construction).

    The proponent has been working on getting this Plans and Specifications approval for well over a year and they still don’t have all of it:

    • Clearly they have not been able to come up with a safe and credible design and construction sequence. If they can’t even plan, one wonders if they could execute.
    • The proponent initially expected this approval would require only a few months (and then decided to split their application into Phase 1 and Phase 2, and later still decided on a further split of Phase 1 into Phase 1A and Phase 1B). As their estimate to do the planning for this application was wrong by more than a factor of two, one must question their schedule for the actual construction work.

     

  3. Proponent has not resolved or even investigated the groundwater contamination issue. The proponent’s 2013 testing found Zinc contamination in the groundwater at the proposed construction site. As their testing was upstream of the likely source, the problem is probably actually worse. So the extent of this problem, and the cost and time required to deal with it are not known. Remediation could take months, delaying the entire project.

    The proponent has known about this issue for almost two years, yet they have not done the retesting required to better understand the problem. They could have completely understood, addressed, and remediated this problem by now, but have instead left this as a huge unknown cost and schedule risk for their investors.
     

  4. Environmental approval could be invalid. As we present in this article, the changes the proponent has made since they received environmental approval do appear to be environmentally-significant, so we sent this letter to the MoE. We await a reply.
     
  5. The required process for the Muskoka River Water Management Plan amendments required for station operation has not even been initiated, which is significant as the proposed station cannot be operated until this amendment process is completed.
    • Also, for both of their environmental approvals the proponent committed that throughout their proposed construction they would maintaiin the continuous minimum flow down the Bala north falls which is required by the MRWMP. However the proponent changed their plans so their construction plans also would not comply with the MRWMP.
    • Therefore, the proponent requires an amendment to the MRWMP for construction, and this amendment process has not been initiated either.
       
  6. The proponent requires a building permit from the Township of Muskoka Lakes, and they also require a Permit to take Water from the MoE to allow the operation of their proposed generating station. They do not have either of these permits.
     
  7. The proponent has not addressed the drowning risk. Perhaps because they have spent so much time and money, both the MNR and proponent have decided they will ignore this issue of drowning people. But this risk should be a major concern for the proponent’s investors, due to the; liability, insurance costs, likely operating restrictions, and being permenently associated with facilitating the construction of a death machine.
     
  8. The operator of the Mill Stream generating station may receive approval to use more water, and this would correspondingly reduce the water available for, and revenue to, the proponent’s proposed station.
     
  9. As has been widely reported over the past weeks, Ontario’s credit rating has been reduced because Ontario is spending more than it receives through taxes. Ontario’s Liberal government has decided they are smarter than the rest of us and that they know which businesses and industries to subsidize, but they ignore that the resulting high cost of electricity is ruining the rest of the economy.

    On July 8, 2015 the Toronto Sun published an article by Christina Blizzard and an article by Candice Malcolm showing this makes no sense. Subsidizing the Bala proponent $100,000,000 (over the initial 40-year term of the proponent’s Feed-In Tariff contract) through the above-market rate which the Bala proponent would receive to produce the most power when it is least needed (in the spring and fall) is a waste of taxpayers money and is bad for Ontario’s economy.

    On July 10, 2015 the National Post published an article about a recent Ontario Chamber of Commerce study which found that one option would be to cancel existing FIT contracts. While they dismissed this due to the legal costs for cancelling other FIT contracts, for this proposed Bala project, there are two ways the FIT contract could be cancelled for free, as noted in this article.

    The proponent is pursuing this opportunity only because of their FIT contract, which requires the proponent be in commercial operation by April 2018. The proponent cannot start heavy construction until June 2016, leaving only 22 months. The proponent claims they could finish the proposed Bala project in less time, but this is complete and wishful fantasy. Much smaller projects with much simpler construction sites take longer, such as has the nearby Wasdell Falls project. Just remediating the groundwater found to be contaminated with Zinc could take months, yet the proponent has not even begun investigating this, and has not allowed any time in their schedule for this. Also, there are so many timing restrictions (such as when cofferdams can be installed or when in-water work is allowed) that a month delay will quickly become a year delay.

    So it is a risk the Ontario government will decide it doesn’t have $100,000,000 to waste on this proposed Bala project and will use the proponent missing their Commercial Operation Date deadline to cancel this mistake of a project.

The proponent needs to borrow more than $25,000,000 for the proposed construction, which as shown above has many risks of both delay and additional cost.

The proponent’s decision to not permit the planned Canada Day celebration last weekend shows how the proponent continues to bully and abuse the community. Without earning the social licence to proceed, the proponent has created a hostile construction and operating environment – which would be most undesirable for this prominent facility that would usually be unattended.

There is much more to this story than we hear from either the govenment or proponent. It is time for this proposed project to be cancelled.
 

Thank you supporters
The proponent’s Notices of Trespass which stated they would instruct the Ontario Provincial Police to arrest anyone attending the Moon River Property Owners Association’s 5th annual Canada Day evening celebration and the SaveTheBalaFalls.com event which was scheduled earlier that same July 4, 2015 day rightly concerned the community enough that there was a fantastic turn-out at the July 3, 2015 Township of Muskoka Lakes special Council meeting.

As this same Council had recently accepted an offer from the proponent that they would not impact Margaret Burgess Park, we hoped the Councillors would have been interested in discussing the proponent reneging on their offer. However the Council voted to not hear this issue. The July 9, 2015 issue of the Bracebridge Examiner had a total of four articles concerning the proponent’s and Council’s actions, and the effort to save the Bala falls.

Good work in letting everyone know we care about Bala and our rights. And thank you all for the great response to our FUNdraiser on July 4, 2015.

As we are beginning to use professional services, fundraising is an important part of saving the Bala falls. Ways to donate are here, and you can support filmmaker Rob Stewart’s work to create a documentary at FightForBala.com.
 

SaveTheBalaFalls.com

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