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

Sep 282015
 

Summary
The Township would have some responsibility for injuries and fatalities due to the extreme dangers which would be created by the proposed hydro-electric generating station at the Bala falls. As detailed below, the Township’s resulting liability would be reduced or eliminated by the Township taking no-cost actions to show they are attempting to reduce this risk.
 

Detail
As we presented to the Township of Muskoka Lakes Council at their September 18, 2015 meeting:

  1. It would be unprecedented to build a hydro-electric generating station in the middle of a recreational area. But rather than the proponent presenting plans to deal with this extreme danger, the proponent has instead made changes so the operation of their proposed station would be even more dangerous.
     
  2. As an example that this danger is real, in 2008 a 16 year old boy drowned at the Wilson’s Falls generating station (this is a few km north of Bracebridge) while attempting to swim past that station’s tailrace discharge. The proposed Bala station would:
    • Have a maximum capacity of more than TEN TIMES the Wilson’s Falls generating station’s tailrace discharge flow.
    • Run at this maximum capacity an average of 21 days every summer.
       
  3. We have asked that the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of the Environment require the proponent to provide an assessment of the dangers which their proposed generating station would create, but this has not happened. We therefore commissioned the Lifesaving Society to provide an Aquatic Safety Audit report. You can read this report and background information here.
     
  4. While one might expect that the years of provincial approval processes would ensure that the proposed project would be safe enough, this has not happened.
    • For example, the proponent and province believe that somehow all in-water recreation upstream and downstream of the proposed generating station could be stopped with some signs or fencing. This would not happen. For example, the proposed station would use a cycling operation, so there would be no flow through the proposed station on more than of summer days – until about noon, when the station would automatically start without warning, and with a flow more than double that which caused the Wilson’s Falls drowning.
      And people get to the in-water recreational area at the Bala north falls from areas that cannot be fenced, such as from the Town Docks on the Moon River.
       
  5. As shown below, people reach the in-water recreational area at the base of the Bala north falls from Township-owned or -maintained property, as shown on the image below (click on it for a larger view).

The proposed Bala generating station would be remotely- and automatically-controlled and would start operation without warning. Legal action for injuries and fatalities would be to those with liability, and it could and would be argued that the Township would have some liability as it would be through Township-owned or -maintained land that people accessed the water – made unpredictable by the proponent’s proposed project.

Part of determining liability is what acts of commission or omission the Township takes to reduce their liability. For example, the municipality could take action to reduce and eliminate their liability, as follows:

  1. The District Municipality of Muskoka not permit the shoulder of their Muskoka Road 169 to be widened and not permit the proponent’s proposed intake excavation or dump truck traffic under the Muskoka Road 169 bridge over the Bala north channel. These actions would show the municipality would not be facilitating the construction of this dangerous proposed generating station.
    The Township should therefore request that the District:
    • Withdraw their permission for shoulder widening (easily justified due to the proponent withholding from the District the important information that the MNR does not own the riverbed land under the District’s bridge).
    • Not permit the proponent to excavate or trespass under the District’s Muskoka Road 169 bridge.
       
  2. The Township not lease their Portage Landing land and parking lots, as the proponent would use them to facilitate the proposed construction.

These actions would be at no cost the municipality, and would remove liability from the Township.

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