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

Mar 282016
 

Summary
For their environmental approval, the proponent showed both the MoE and the public that the Bala north channel would not be fully obstructed during the construction of their proposed hydro-electric generating station at the Bala falls. Allowing this partial flow would reduce the chance that Lake Muskoka would be flooded during the proposed construction period.

However, without informing the public, the proponent later changed their construction plans to fully obstruct the Bala north channel from June through February. As a result, there would be more than a 20% probability that the thousands of properties, docks, and boathouses on Lake Muskoka would be flooded due to the proponent’s construction plans – for which they do not have environmental approval.

We have met with the MoE about this and their response is the proponent has received environmental approval, this change is not environmentally-significant, and the MNR has some environmental responsibility too, so we should bring this issue to the MNR’s attention.

We then wrote detailed letters to the MNR, who have replied they will:

  • Not require the proponent’s construction plans to avoid flooding Lake Muskoka.
  • Not even meet with us to discuss this issue.

This is not the “Open Government” Kathleen Wynne promised after becoming Premier (Toronto Star article here).

Detail

  • As shown here, in their 2009 Environmental Screening/Review report the proponent showed that during the proposed construction they would block only about half of the Bala north channel.
  • As shown here, in their 2012 Addendum the proponent showed they would block about ⅔ of the Bala north channel.

And that is what they received approval to do from the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MoE). Of note is that this approval states: “Swift River Energy Limited must implement the Project in the manner it was developed and designed, as set out in the Environmental Screening Report …”

However, since then, and without environmental approval, the proponent has changed their proposed construction plans so their upstream coffer dam would fully obstruct the Bala north channel for the nine months of June through February during their proposed construction.

  • While one would expect this lack of flow would negatively impact the fish habitat at the base of the Bala north falls, the MoE doesn’t care.
  • But one would expect that everyone else would care that this would create a high risk of flooding Lake Muskoka during the proposed construction. The background is that historical flow data shows that ten times in the past 45 years the flow through Bala was more than the Bala south channel could carry during these nine months, so by fully obstructing the Bala north channel the proponent’s construction plans now have more than a 20% probability of flooding the thousands of properties, docks, and boathouses on Lake Muskoka.

Again, the MoE tells us they don’t care.

We have been concerned about this issue of the proponent’s construction plans causing flooding of Lake Muskoka for many years, and have written five detailed letters to the MNR about this. Each time the MNR replies they will consider this as part of their assessment and approvals process. We have sinced learned the MNR intends to address this flooding risk by requiring that the upstream cofferdam have a “removable portion”, along with the following two-step plan:

  1. If the MNR determines there is a “Flood Watch” they would send an e-mail to the proponent ordering them to be “at the ready”. The proponent then has 24 hours to “mobilize the equipment and persons necessary to remove the removable portion of the cofferdam.”
  2. If the MNR then determines that the Bala south channel will not be able to handle the required flow they would send an e-mail to the proponent “ordering the immediate removal of the upstream cofferdam”. The proponent is then to remove the top 9′ of a 105′-width of the cofferdam.

Unfortunately the MNR’s plan would be unworkable, so last month we began the following exchange with the MNR, starting with a detailed letter explaining that the plan has problems – for example, it could not be implemented for six of the nine months the upstream coffer dam would be in place:

  1. On February 8, 2016 we sent an e-mail to the MNR (Members click [this content is only available to SaveTheBalaFalls.com members, click on the Membership tab above to learn more]) which explained (even with a diagram) why their plan to avoid flooding Lake Muskoka could not be implemented.
     
  2. On February 25, 2016 the MNR replied (Members click [this content is only available to SaveTheBalaFalls.com members, click on the Membership tab above to learn more]). But their letter does not address the reasons why their plan is unworkable. The MNR is apparently in denial, and they just repeat that they have a plan. Unfortunately an unworkable plan is not a plan.
    So the summary is that we have been raising this same risk of flooding issue for years, and the MNR has repeatedly replied over the years that they will consider this concern. But now that we see the MNR’s plan it shows that despite years of being asked to address this issue, they have not.
    And there is another problem with the MNR’s plan – it does not have environmental approval. While the actual environmental concerns are part of the problem, the other problem is that only the MoE’s environmental assessment process requires notifying the public and accepting public comment. The result is the MNR is allowing the proponent to risk flooding Lake Muskoka and the MNR is attempting to hide this unfortunate truth from the public.
     
  3. On February 17, 2016 we sent 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, detailing some of the unmitigated negative environmental impacts that would be created by the proponent implementing the MNR’s plan. It makes quite a farce of the environmental assessment and its public consultation process for the MNR to instruct the proponent to ignore the proponent’s environmental commitments and approval.
     
  4. On February 26, 2016 the MNR replied (Members click [this content is only available to SaveTheBalaFalls.com members, click on the Membership tab above to learn more]), but did not address my concerns that the proponent has no environmental approval to implement the coffer dam lowering plan. Further, the MNR makes a completely meaningless and misleading statement that there is only a 1% chance that the north channel would need to carry 163 m³/s for the maximum possible flood. What is important, and what my letter raised, and what the MNR attempts to distract the Minister’s office from understanding is that there is more than a 20% chance that the Bala south channel could not handle all required flow, and due to the MNR’s unworkable plan thousands of properties, docks, and boathouses on Lake Muskoka would be flooded.
     
  5. On March 1, 2016 we sent 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 with this attachment. Additional risks and reasons why the MNR’s plan is unworkable were provided. As this exchange of e-mails was clearly not resolving anything, we requested to meet with the MNR.
     
  6. On March 17, 2016 the MNR replied (Members click [this content is only available to SaveTheBalaFalls.com members, click on the Membership tab above to learn more]) insisting they have qualified staff, stating the MNR’s approvals are “not subject to public consultation”, and refusing to meet with us.

Conclusions
The MNR:

  1. Insists their staff are qualified, but have come up with an unworkable plan in their attempt to address the risk of the proponent’s construction plans having more than a 20% probability of flooding Lake Muskoka.
     
  2. Won’t meet with us to discuss this, and they have not found any fault with our reasons why their plan is unworkable.
     
  3. Are therefore allowing the proponent to risk flooding Lake Muskoka, and won’t inform the public of this, or accept public comment.

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