So that its location would meet Transport Canada’s safety standards, a few years ago the Ministry of Natural Resources relocated their safety boom upstream of the Bala north dam 15 m farther upstream.
However, if the proposed hydro-electric generating station at the Bala falls was constructed, this safety boom would need to be relocated even farther upstream to meet Transport Canada’s requirements, and this would:
- Bankrupt a local business.
- Obstruct the Bala Portage.
- Prevent water access from both Diver’s Point and the Town Docks on Bala Bay (depending on how the danger of the proposed generating station is assessed).
In 2013, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry relocated their safety boom for the Bala north dam from approximately 35 m upstream to its current location approximately 50 m upstream of the dam. This change was due to a recommendation in their report Public Safety Measure Plan, Bala Falls Dams. This report was completed in March 2011, and a link to it is here (it is an 8 Mbyte file, so will take some time to download).
As you can see in the photograph below (click on it for a larger view), the current location of the upstream safety boom (as you can see, the MNR’s current standard is that these are orange) allows Lake Muskoka water access to both:
- The Bala Portage put-in / take-out, which is on the Crown land beside Purk’s Place (just upstream of the safety boom, at the right of this photograph).
- Purk’s Place docks (a major part of this business is renting canoes, kayaks, and motor boats, so water access to Lake Muskoka is required).
As shown on the last page of the report, Transport Canada’s Point of No Return calculations were used to determine that the upstream safety boom had to be relocated to be at least 50 m upstream of the Bala north dam. The factors used to determine this upstream distance include the hazards from which people need to be protected. Reviewing the input to those calculations shows that the construction of the proposed generating station at the Bala falls would require the upstream safety boom to be relocated even further upstream, due to these three factors:
- The proposed generating station’s intake would be approximately 12 m upstream of the Bala north dam, so the safety boom would need to be relocated 12 m farther upstream.
- The proposed generating station would be remotely operated.
- Rescues would be delayed as the proposed station’s remote operators would first need to be contacted and they would need to stop the station’s operation.
Based on these changed factors, the Transport Canada calculations require the upstream safety boom to be 60 m upstream of the hazard rather than the current 50 m from the dam. The updated calculation is here, and the location 60 upstream of the proposed generating station’s intake is marked-up on the proponent’s Figure below (click on it for a larger view).
As shown in the Figure above, the construction of the proposed generating station would require the upstream safety boom to be at least at the CP Rail bridge. The required upstream safety boom would then both:
- Prevent water access for the Bala Portage put-in / take-out.
- Eliminate water access between Lake Muskoka and Purk’s Place docks − which would have a significant negative impact on this business.
But it gets worse
One of the factors of the Transport Canada calculation accounts for the danger of the hazard, according to the height of the dam. This makes sense, for example, being thrown over a higher dam would be more dangerous.
However, being drawn to a generating station’s intake trash-rack and held under water by the tons of water entering the generating station every second would be even more dangerous. One way of accounting for this increased danger of a generating station would be instead of the 1.67 m height of the Bala north dam used for the calculations above, to instead use the 5.2 m net height of water between Bala Bay to the Moon River.
As shown in this calculation, the upstream safety boom would then need to be 187 m upstream of the proposed generating station’s intake. So in addition to bankrupting a local business and preventing use of the historic Bala Portage, locating the upstream safety boom as required would:
- Prevent water access for Diver’s Point, which would have negative economic impacts as this is one of the most popular and unique locations for Scuba diving in all of Muskoka, and currently draws visitors and Scuba diving schools to Bala.
- Stop all water access for the Town Docks on Bala Bay. This would have even greater negative impacts, as it is designated under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act due to its historic use as the Steamship Wharf, it continues to be the site of the Bala Aquatic Association’s Annual Regatta as it has been for over 100 years, and it is very important to the area’s economy as boats continue to use the docks all summer for visits to Bala.
- Prevent barge access to the CP Rail bridge pier and abutments, as is currently required for repairs to these.
As stated in the Aquatic Safety Audit report for the Bala North Falls, before any construction starts, the proponent must be required to show how they could operate their proposed generating station safely.
We have therefore sent this letter to the Ministry of the Environment, and we await their reply.