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

Jul 202016
 

Recent Development Summary

  • Queen’s Park meeting: Earlier this month we were able to directly meet with both the proponent and senior staff from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNR) to discuss the public safety and flooding concerns of the proposed project to build a hydro-electric generating station at the Bala falls.
    • The proponent has made some changes which may address the flooding concerns during the proposed construction. However, they are relying solely on Transport Canada’s approval that the public safety concerns have been addressed, which is a misunderstanding of Transport Canada’s mandate, expertise, and responsibilities.
       
  • E-mails to send: For their environmental assessment, the proponent stated the water outside of their safety booms would be safe, but their own flow simulation shows water three times the velocity Transport Canada says is safe outside of their proposed safety boom, and extending more than 160′ down the Moon River. The proponent’s planned project therefore would not comply with their environmental approval.

    Also, as the MNR has not required the proponent to provide a Public Safety Plan, the MNR does not know if the proposed project could be operated safely. The MNR’s Ministry Engineer therefore has a personal and professional obligation to inform the public of these potential hazards and risks.

Additional detail is provided below, along with updates on the Township’s controversial land lease which enables this proposed construction, and the District’s Muskoka Road 169 bridge maintenance work.
 

The Current Situation

We haven’t been able to send out much information lately as we have been very busy determining what the responses are to the public safety concerns. We now have the following to report.
 

  1. Approvals still needed
    In addition to several municipal approvals, to build their proposed generating station the proponent still requires approvals from both the MNR and the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC).
     
  2. Queen’s Park meeting with MNR and proponent
    After raising our concerns about public safety and flooding Lake Muskoka with senior provincial political staff, we had the opportunity to meet directly with both the proponent and senior staff at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

    While the proponent showed some drawings indicating they may have addressed the flooding issue, we were surprised they are depending solely on the approval they have received from Transport Canada to show they have addressed the public safety concerns. We therefore sent this follow-up letter to the MNR, more detail is provided below.
     

  3. Non-compliance with Environmental Assessment
    Both in their original proposal and for their environmental approval the proponent acknowledged the many in-water recreational activities at the Bala falls and stated these could safely continue outside of their proposed safety booms.

    However, reviewing information from the proponent and Transport Canada, and the situation of the 2008 drowning at the nearby and much-smaller Wilson’s Falls generating station shows that the proposed hydro-electric generating station at the Bala falls would make the water extremely dangerous outside – and on all three sides – of the proposed downstream safety boom.

    The proposed project would therefore not comply with the environmental approval. More detail is in this article.
     

  4. Proponent’s Incorrect Statements
    As noted above, while the proponent’s environmental assessment showed that in-water recreational activities could continue outside of their proposed safety booms, the facts show this would not be true. Even worse, the public would not know where the dangerous water would be, nor would there be warning before it would start.

    Instead of working to address these public safety concerns, the proponent is making incorrect statements. Some of these, and our responses, are in this article.
     

  5. Misinterpretation of Transport Canada Approval and Ministry Engineer’s Professional Responsibility
    The proponent has claimed that as they have an approval from Transport Canada, the public safety concerns have been addressed.

    The public safety concerns are for; the in-water recreation both upstream and downstream of the proposed generating station, and boating in the Moon River. Transport Canada has no mandate or responsibility for either. The proponent has therefore not provided, and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNR) does not have, any authoritative assessment of what the impacts would be for these in-water recreational activities.

    The MNR’s publication Public Safety Around Dams advises that Operators provide a Public Safety Plan to identify the risks and their mitigation, this is even more important as it would be unprecedented to build a hydro-electric generating station in the middle of an extremely popular in-water recreational area. However, the proponent has stated they will only consider providing safe operating plans after their final Plans and Specifications are assessed and they receive approval for construction.

    This is ridiculous. Safety must not be an after-thought. Public safety requirements must be included as part of the design, and the MNR must be able to consider this as part of their assessment of the proponent’s final Plans and Specificatons. Without an acceptable Public Safety Plan, the MNR would not know if it would even be possible to operate the proposed generating station safely.

    The required final Plans and Specifications approval must be issued by a "Ministry Engineer" – who is a Professional Engineer licensed to practice in the province of Ontario. This person therefore has professional and personal due diligence obligations beyond the MNR’s policies and procedures. For example, if the MNR has no information that the proposed project could be operated safely, then the Ministry Engineer must communicate to the public the potential hazards and risks the proposed project would create.

    Transport Canada has not addressed the public safety concerns. Therefore either the proponent must provide an acceptable Public Safety Plan before any further approvals are issued, or the Ministry Engineer must ensure that the public is informed of the potential hazards and risks the proposed project would create. More detail is in this article.
     

  6. A Public Safety Plan is Required
    As it would be unprecedented to build a hydro-electric generating station in the middle of an extremely popular in-water recreational area, the proponent should be required to provide a Public Safety Plan, as is specified in the MNR’s Best Management Practices, Public Safety Around Dams.

    To address the concerns, we request that this Public Safety Plan:

    • Be required before any further approvals are provided, in case any design changes are necessary.
    • Must be approved by an organization with in-water recreation expertise, such as the Royal Life Saving Society Canada.
       

What you can do

Within the next week, send e-mails summarizing your concerns, for example:

  1. To the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, the Honourable Glenn Murray, GMurray.mpp@liberal.ola.org :
    • For their environmental assessment, the proponent both acknowledged the current in-water recreation and clearly showed that the only dangerous areas would be within their proposed safety booms. However, the proponent’s own flow simulation shows the dangerously-fast water would extend more than 160′ outside of their safety boom, so their proposed project would not comply with the environmental approval. As a result, people would not know where the dangerous areas would be, or when this danger would start.

      The proposed project must either comply with the environmental approval, or the MOECC must require the proponent to follow the required Addendum provisions.
       

  2. To the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, the Honourable Kathryn McGarry, KMcGarry.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org and Minister.MNRF@ontario.ca :
    • Transport Canada’s approval does not show that the dangers to in-water recreation and to boating in the Moon River have been addressed.
    • The MNR’s Best Management Practices requires that a Public Safety Plan be provided. For the proposed Bala project, this is even more important as it would be unprecedented to build a hydro-electric generating station in the middle of a popular in-water recreational area. The MNR must either require an acceptable Public Safety Plan be submitted before any further approvals are issued, or the MNR must inform the public of the potential hazards and risks that would be created.
    • To be meaningful, the Public Safety Plan must be approved by an organization with experience with in-water recreation, such as the Royal Life Saving Society Canada.

It is best if letters ask for a reply.
 

Township leases land to proponent
At a special Township of Muskoka Lakes Council meeting on January 26, 2016 it was voted to authorize the Mayor and Clerk to execute the lease providing three parcels of Township land to the proponent to facilitate their proposed construction. This lease was executed (signed) on July 13, 2016, though the Mayor chose to selectively inform only those Councillors who voted that this lease be executed, causing much anger and concern from both the public and other Councillors when this became known at the Council meeting July 15, 2016. Gravenhurst Banner articles reporting this are here and here.

You can see a copy of the Lease here. It has some surprising provisions, for example that the Township "immediately upon execution of this Lease arrange for its Council to pass By-Laws" to exempt the proponent from the Noise by-law, both the Heritage Designation and Heritage Conservation District By-Laws, the Tree Preservation By-Law, and payment of all taxes.
 

Proponent providing conflicting information to the Township and MOECC
Provisions of the above lease include the requirement that the proponent not use Margaret Burgess Park for construction purposes and that they only locate sedimentation settling tanks in the Precambrian Shield parking lot. However, the proponent has provided a drawing to the MOECC showing they would use Margaret Burgess Park for construction purposes, and at the Township of Muskoka Lakes Council meeting on July 15, 2016 the proponent claimed they could locate sedimentation settling tanks in Portage Landing. Our presentation to the Council meeting July 15, 2016 is here.
 

MOECC approval needed
As both groundwater and lake/river water would leak into the excavation for the proposed construction, this water would need to be pumped out. The proponent’s plan for this pumping and subsequent storage, treatment, and testing requires approval from the MOECC. The MOECC initially provided a 45-day public comment period on these plans, which were only available by making an appointment to view them in Toronto. Then they extended this by a week. Then we found that the proponent has completely changed their plans. Then as noted here, the MOECC decided: "that the instrument was posted in error". We have asked the MOECC that this entire process be re-started, and will report when we have an update.
 

Bridge maintenance work
The District Municipality of Muskoka owns and maintains the two Muskoka Road 169 bridges in Bala, over the Bala north channel and Bala south channel. They have determined that bridge maintenance work is required, and this is scheduled to begin later this summer. It is not known whether or how this might affect the proposed project to build a hydro-electric generating station at the Bala falls. A Gravenhurst Banner article is here.

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