The province will protect turtles and moose, but not people
The quick summary
We continue to explain to the Ministry of Natural Resources that the proposed project to build a hydro-electric generating station at the Bala falls:
- Would risk flooding Lake Muskoka during the planned construction.
- Would be too dangerous during the planned operation.
- Can therefore now be cancelled by the MNR, without paying costs or penalty, as the proponent committed during the procurement process that their proposed project would not cause the above.
We have met with the MNR and look forward to their addressing these concerns. Until then, we have requested that the MNR not provide any further approvals until an acceptable safety plan has been presented to the public.
The current situation
As currently planned, the proposed hydro-electric generating station at the Bala falls would be too dangerous for the location, given the area’s:
• Shoreline ownership.
• Nearby public and private docks.
• Public’s uses and rights to use the shoreline and water.
How we got here
The proposed project was initiated with a Ministry of Natural Resources’ procurement process which included the release of a well-written Request for Proposals in 2005. This RFP included the following requirement:
“For the North Bala Dam, demonstrate consideration of the extensive aesthetic, recreational, social and economic (i.e. tourism) values in the area of the proposed development.”
As a result, the proponent’s 2005 Proposal included the commitment that their proposed project would:
“not generally diminish the public’s enjoyment of the area for swimming, boating, fishing …”
However, the MNR now appears to believe that to deal with the extreme danger the proposed generating station would create, that the MNR could either somehow eliminate all in-water recreation in the area (which would be an impossible task), or that they could transfer all responsibility for public safety to the proponent. For example in this letter they state: “it would be the direct responsibility of Swift River Energy Limited to ensure appropriate public safety measures are in place as they relate to flows above and below a waterpower facility” – and as currently designed, operating the proposed generating station safely would also be an impossible task.
That is, the MNR is apparently attempting to claim they have no responsibility for the unresolvable situation they have created by not enforcing the requirements of their 2005 RFP.
Our December 15, 2015 meeting with the MNR – major unaddressed issues
The Ontario provincial government is comprised of three categories of people:
- Elected politicians, such as the Honourable Bill Mauro, Minister of Natural Resources, and Norm Miller, MPP Parry Sound – Muskoka.
- Political office staff whom the elected politicians hire to assist with communications and policy. These people have job titles such as Legislative Assistant, Policy Advisor, Issues Management, and Press Secretary, and all report to the Ministry’s Chief of Staff.
- Bureaucrats, who are the civil servants who work in the Ministries and implement the procedures and policies for routine matters, and who receive political direction for special and unusual situations.
Realizing that the proposed Bala project has become a political, rather than solely a bureaucratic issue, on December 15, 2015 we had the opportunity to meet with the Chief of Staff and a Legislative Assistant for the MNR, where we made the following points:
- Public safety. The MNR has stated that their approvals process will consider public safety.
- Transport Canada. The MNR cannot rely on Transport Canada’s approval under the Navigation Protection Act for public safety, as Transport Canada has no responsibility for boating safety in the Moon River, and Transport Canada has no expertise or mandate for in-water recreation such as swimming, wading, and Scuba diving.
- Other hydro-electric generating stations. While there is a hydro-electric generating station at the Bracebridge Falls, the situation there is completely different in that; there is no nearby in-water recreation (nobody lives or even touches the water within 800′ of that generating station), there are no private docks, the public docks there are protected by a 110′-long concrete breakwater, and Bracebridge has a much more diversified economy.
The owner of the nearby Wilson’s Falls generating station has confirmed that the turbulent water exiting their generating station caused the 2008 drowning of a 16 year old boy there. The proposed Bala generating station would have more than ten times that flow and would be automatically- and remotely-started at about noon on summer days, so would be even more dangerous. This is proof that the proposed Bala generating station would be deadly dangerous.
- Aquatic Safety Assessment. We provided the MNR with a copy of the Lifesaving Society’s Aquatic Safety Assessment report, which concluded that the proposed Bala generating station would create extreme dangers and that an acceptable safety plan must be presented before any further approvals are granted.
- Upstream safety boom. Using Transport Canada’s own method of calculating the required distance upstream for the upstream safety boom, we showed that it would need to be relocated upstream of Purk’s Place. This would both prevent use of the portage there, and would prevent Purk’s Place from renting boats – and we note that a specific requirement of the MNR’s RFP was: “continuity of business in the local area”.
- Unprecedented. Visiting 32 similarly-sized hydro-electric generating stations in Southern Ontario shows that it would be unprecedented to build a hydro-electric generating station in the middle of a very popular in-water recreational area.
Given the requirements of the MNR’s 2005 RFP and the commitments the proponent made in their 2005 Proposal (for which they were awarded the opportunity to pursue this proposed project through a competitive process), we then showed that the proponent would be reneging on these commitments.
We then showed that as the proponent is reneging on their commitments, due to the provisions of the MNR’s 2005 RFP, the MNR can cancel this proposed project, without paying any costs or penalty.
In our meeting with the MNR, we provided written detail for all of the above, in the following two documents which we left with them:
- A letter summarizing our points (Members click [this content is only available to SaveTheBalaFalls.com members, click on the Membership tab above to learn more]).
- A compilation of the documents confirming all our claims (Members click [this content is only available to SaveTheBalaFalls.com members, click on the Membership tab above to learn more]).
We followed-up with the MNR a month later (which allowed time for the winter holidays) and the MNR’s Chief of Staff replied on January 20, 2016:
“We are working on getting you an update on the status of the safety plan, as discussed. I don’t think there is a need to set up a meeting with you until you have had a chance to see our update as we have no new information to share.”
Several weeks after that we learned through other channels that the MNR’s Chief of Staff left the Ministry, and we still have no update or other response from the MNR concerning our meeting or materials left with them. We continue to work on having our concerns addressed.
Our letter to Minister Mauro – you can cancel this with no costs or penalty
A year ago we wrote a letter (Members click [this content is only available to SaveTheBalaFalls.com members, click on the Membership tab above to learn more]) to the MNR noting that due to the provisions of their well-written RFP, the MNR could cancel this proposed project without having to pay any costs or penalty. This is because the proponent would renege on important commitments they made in their Proposal, for which they were selected as the proponent through a competitive process.
We recently learned that as a result of our letter, last May the MNR reviewed their 2005 RFP and in a May 14, 2015 letter concluded that the MNR could not cancel. However, the MNR did not review the right RFP! The MNR inadvertently reviewed a draft rather than the issued RFP, and the differences are significant. As a result, it appears the MNR arrived at an incorrect conclusion.
On March 9, 2016 we therefore sent the following package of information to the Honourable Bill Mauro, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, to detail that in fact the MNR could cancel this proposed project without paying costs or a penalty:
- A letter (click [this content is only available to SaveTheBalaFalls.com members, click on the Membership tab above to learn more] detailing that the MNR’s internal analysis was incorrect, and referencing the following four attachments of supporting documents – all of which are MNR’s own documents.
- The MNR’s May 14, 2015 letter (click [this content is only available to SaveTheBalaFalls.com members, click on the Membership tab above to learn more]).
- The MNR’s Draft RFP (click [this content is only available to SaveTheBalaFalls.com members, click on the Membership tab above to learn more]).
- The MNR’s Issued RFP (click [this content is only available to SaveTheBalaFalls.com members, click on the Membership tab above to learn more]).
- A letter from the MNR to the Township of Muskoka Lakes confirming the MNR would ensure the proponent honours their commitments (click [this content is only available to SaveTheBalaFalls.com members, click on the Membership tab above to learn more]).
We await a response from the MNR.
Why will the province protect turtles and moose, but will not protect people
- As reported here, a proposed wind turbine project at Ostrander Point (which is west of Kingston) has been cancelled as it would threaten the turtle habitat there.
- As reported here, a proposed wind turbine project in Thunder Bay has been cancelled as it would threaten the moose habitat there.
So given; that it is proven that hydro-electric generating stations are deadly to people, that it would be unprecedented to build a hydro-electric generating station so close to the public and private docks in Bala, and that the public has a right to safe boating in the Moon River, why is the MNR not protecting the public, and not even requiring the public be shown an acceptable safety plan.
Town Hall Meeting
We plan on holding a Town Hall meeting at the Bala Community Centre on Saturday May 21, 2016 at 1:30 pm. More details to follow.
Water Docs Film Festival
The fifth annual Water Docs film festival is in Toronto from Monday evening March 21, through Saturday March 26, 2016. It is to celebrate World Water Day and Canada Water Week, and is centred around documentary films, both feature-length and shorts, and includes discussions with special guests and filmmakers.
On Friday March 25, the Rob Stewart / Jonah Bryson video Fight for Bala will be shown, and SaveTheBalaFalls.com will be present before and after to answer questions. While there is a charge to attend other days, all the events are free on the Friday (which is Good Friday). Some events are at the University of Toronto downtown campus, but most events – including the Friday events and the showing of the Fight for Bala video – are at the Ada Slaight Hall at Daniels Spectrum, at 585 Dundas Street East, Toronto, M5A 2B7.
The full schedule and all details are at WaterDocs.ca
Cottage Life Show
In addition to the Water Docs film festival, we will also be at the Cottage Life Show, which is Friday April 1 to Sunday April 3, 2016, at the International Centre, 6900 Airport Road, in Mississauga. Our booth is 225, which is in Hall 1 (this is the building closest to Airport Road).
As you see from some document links above, we are restricting some material to Members of SaveTheBalaFalls.com. Details on becoming a member are at our web site’s Membership tab. If you have any questions, contact us as Membership@SaveTheBalaFalls.com.