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

Apr 082017

The proponent’s 2005 proposal for this proposed project stated: “The financial support comes from three high net worth individuals plus the substantial resources of the Horizon Legacy Group, a Toronto based commercial real estate firm.” These individuals were John Wildman, Paul Fisher, and Anthony Zwig, and were joined by Ian Baines a year or two later. The proponent’s 2007 Public Information Centre referred to these “four founders” and stated that the proponent “is providing the necessary financing for this project”.

Well, the proponent has now been bumbling around for more than 11 years, and:

  • Ian Baines (the only one that claimed to have any experience with developing hydro-electric generating stations) ceased all involvement about 2011.
  • John Wildman and Paul Fisher ceased all involvement in 2015.
  • It appears the proposed project is now stopped, while Anthony Zwig attempts to either raise construction financing or sell the entire company to some entity that has the money needed to continue.

So the “high net worth individuals” have abandoned this sinking ship. They have shown the financial assurances and promises they made in their 2005 proposal were as worthless as their other important commitments, for example that their proposed project “will not generally diminish the public’s enjoyment of the area for swimming, boating …” and that their building – even for their current Alternative 1A – would not rise above the level of the road. This continues the reputation of this proponent of empty promises, deception, and lies.

The proponent is apparently now hunting for a bigger fool who will believe this proposed project is almost “shovel ready”. We know that the only shovel this proposed project is ready for is for the manure the proponent will spew to such suckers.

A few years ago, a subsidiary of Oakville Hydro considered investing in this proposed project, thinking that all they needed to get the proposed project built was to get community support, which they would address by hiring a public relations firm. Good for them for not blundering into this mess.

But interest rates have been so low for so long that there will be endless investors that will consider this proposed project. So far, the smart money has stayed away. To help the others, we present the following examples of why this proposed project couldn’t, wouldn’t, and shouldn’t be built as it would; be too expensive to build, have too many operational problems, produce too little power to be viable, and be too dangerous to operate.

Deflector wall
A concrete deflector wall, the full height of the water in the Bala north channel, would need to be constructed to evenly direct the water around the 90° turn at the proposed generating station’s intake. This deflector wall would be unacceptable for many reasons:

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) requires that flow through the Bala north dam not be obstructed, as the full capacity of the Bala north dam is needed during spring freshet and other times, even if the proposed generating station is not operating. However, this deflector wall would obstruct approximately half the flow through the Bala north channel, so would not be allowed.
  • When the proposed generating station is not operating, the deflector wall would cause the water to be directed towards the south support for the District Municipality of Muskoka’s Muskoka Road 169 bridge (the Highway Bridge) over the Bala north channel. The resulting erosion and undermining of the Highway Bridge’s south abutment would damage it.

Increased flow in the Bala north channel
When the proposed generating station is operating, the flow into it:

  • Would add to the flow through the Bala north channel, with the result that the flow past the Highway Bridge and CP Rail bridge could be higher than it has ever been before.
  • Would change the direction of flow past the support piers for the Highway Bridge.

These structures; may not have been designed for such a flow, may not be able to handle such a flow in their current condition, and could be damaged or need reinforcement.

Proposed upstream cofferdam
During the proposed construction, the proponent would need to build an upstream cofferdam and there are many unresolved issues, apparently with no acceptable solution so far.

As flow through the Bala north channel may be needed during the proposed construction, the MNRF requires the proponent be able to lower the upstream cofferdam on short notice, such as a day or two.

  1. Therefore, the cofferdam design must enable it to be both lowered, and later raised. The proponent’s initial design of a rock-fill cofferdam would therefore not be acceptable to the MNRF.
  2. The proponent’s next suggestion of a soldier-pile cofferdam would require deep and wide holes be bored directly adjacent to both the Bala north dam and the Highway Bridge support piers. As there would be huge forces on these holes from the I-beams in them holding back up to 20′ of water, and there have been no subsurface investigations at these locations, this design is not currently acceptable either. Therefore, the costs and time to implement this cofferdam design, and whether it is even feasible, are not known.
  3. The proponent’s environmental approval from the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) does not permit any fine particulate matter, hydraulic fluids, or other deleterious materials to be washed into the Moon River. Therefore, the cofferdam lowering plan could not be implemented as it would flood the proposed construction site, washing everything into the Moon River.
  4. During the time period after the proposed intake is excavated and before the proposed intermediate cofferdam is in place, lowering the upstream cofferdam would result in uncontrolled flooding of the Moon River. Therefore, the cofferdam could not be lowered during this time period, which is unacceptable.

Therefore, the proponent’s proposed upstream cofferdam designs would not comply with the requirements of the MNRF and MOECC.

Approvals – proposed construction
There are issues with the three main approvals the proponent needs before starting their proposed construction:

  1. Municipal
    1. The proponent’s driveway entrance permit is for the wrong location, as it is for Margaret Burgess Park rather than Portage Landing (which is the municipal land south of the proposed construction site). For the required location, guardrail would need to be removed, and this would create dangers to the public and liability to the District. It is not known what time, costs, or design would be required to implement this driveway entrance. For example, it may require the shoulder to be widened to create a new lane, isolated by concrete “Jersey barriers”. In any case, the current approval would not apply.
    2. The proponent has not met the conditions for this driveway entrance permit to be valid (including the $2,000,000 Letter of Credit, Heritage Impact Assessment, and detailed engineering drawings).
    3. The proponent requires other municipal approvals, such as for the tie-backs which would be required to secure the shoring to support the District Municipality of Muskoka’s Muskoka Road 169 due to the 60′-deep excavation they would need directly adjacent to it.
  2. MNRF
    1. While the proponent has received Phase 1 Temporary Works approval, this was only for the rock-fill cofferdam design submitted for that approval. As the proponent would not use this upstream cofferdam design, this approval is no longer valid.
    2. There are other problems we’ve seen for their Phase 2 plans, such as their gate hoist mechanism did not appear to be suitable for a “post-disaster building” as required by the Ontario Building Code, the gate hoist mechanism was too close to the public look-out, and their plans would require modifying the Bala north dam, which we understand would not be acceptable to the MNRF.
  3. MOECC
    1. While the proponent does have environmental approval, this approval expires on January 23, 2018 and it is unlikely construction could begin by then, given the requirements such as the $2,000,000 Letter of Credit and other approvals required before construction could begin.
    2. Since the proponent was issued environmental approval in 2013, many other environmental issues have become known, and which would therefore need to be addressed. During the proposed construction, these include the:
      • Cofferdam lowering plan would not comply with the environmental obligations.
      • Additional investigation required as a result of the contaminated groundwater found, such as drilling exploratory boreholes downstream of the likely source so the problem can be understood and acceptably mitigated.
      • Routing over others’ property of the pipes and hoses to the settling tanks, and the inspection and insurance needed for this.
    3. The following negative environmental impacts during the proposed operation would need to be addressed:
      • The dangers to the public, as the proposed downstream safety boom would not delineate the dangerous water. Therefore, it would not comply with the Canadian Dam Association’s guidelines.
      • The proponent’s proposed portage would encourage people to canoe through dangerous waters.
      • The obstructed view and the danger of the proposed public look-out being too close to the gate hoist mechanism.
      • The proponent has stated they would not warn the public before increasing flow to the Moon River. This would not comply with the MNRF’s Public Safety Measures Plan for the Bala dams.
    4. The proponent does not have Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) for the settling tanks that would be required during the proposed construction. The proponent’s plans they submitted previously for their ECA applications could not be implemented as these showed settling tanks on locations for which they do not have such permission.

Approvals – proposed operation
Before the proposed operation would be allowed, the proponent is required to obtain several additional approvals, such as the Permit to take water for operation, Amendment to the Muskoka River Water Management Plan, and the ECA for noise.

Bad situation
This proposed location is not suitable for this proposed project, for example:

  1. There would be head losses and therefore reduced power generation due to the:
    • 90° change of direction of water before entering the proposed intake.
    • The deflector wall required for this change of direction, as well as due to the support piers for both the Highway Bridge and CP Rail bridge.
    • Restricted intake excavation allowed, as the District would not permit excavation of their land under their Highway Bridge.
  2. The Mill Stream generating station apparently has first rights to take additional water from Lake Muskoka, this would reduce the profitability of the proposed project.
  3. Fishing is very popular in the area, and if one of these fishing noodles was to get accidentally drawn into the proposed intake, the section of construction rebar in it could cause months of downtime and millions of dollars of damage to the turbine.
    • Attempting to protect against such accidents by utilizing a trash rack with more closely spaced bars would result in greater head losses due to both the bars and the additional flotsam that would accumulate.
    • The proponent has spent years ignoring, alienating, and infuriating the community. Smart operators know you need to have good community relations to operate expensive machinery unattended.
    • The intake for the proposed generating station would be directly beside the sidewalk on the Highway Bridge.
  4. In 2015 the Township of Muskoka Lakes passed a resolution stating they are an unwilling host for this proposed project.
  5. In 2013 the proponent initiated a $3,000,000 lawsuit against the Township of Muskoka Lakes, the MNRF, and others, claiming defamation. The proponent has not done anything to substantiate or advance this legal action in the four years since, leaving it outstanding apparently as a threat.

    Nobody wants to work with those that initiate and prolong legal action against them.

  6. It would be unprecedented to locate a hydro-electric generating station in the middle of a very popular in-water recreational area and so close to pubic and private docks. As noted by the Lifesaving Society in their Aquatic Safety Audit Report for the Bala North Falls, plans to safely operate this proposed project should be presented to stakeholders and approved before any further approvals are provided, both to ensure they could be implemented and in case any design changes would be required.
  7. In 2011, Ontario Power Generating (the owner/operator of the two downstream hydro-electric generating stations) required the proponent sign an agreement that the proposed Bala generating station’s operation would be stopped and started to coordinate with the requirements of OPG’s downstream generating stations. The result is the proposed Bala generating station would need to be started at about noon on more than ⅓ summer days, and such cycling would be extremely dangerous to the nearby in-water recreational activities.
  8. In 2008 a 16-year-old boy drowned at the Wilson’s Falls generating station, which is about 40 km from the proposed Bala project. At an industry conference, Bracebridge Generation Ltd., the owner and operator of the Wilson’s Falls generating station reported that the drowning was due to the boy attempting to swim across the tailrace flow from their generating station.
    The proposed Bala generating station would:

    • Have more than ten times the flow of the Wilson’s Falls generating station.
    • Start, without warning, at about noon on summer days.
    • Be in an area far more popular for in-water recreation.

    As it appears that adequate safety measures could not be implemented in Bala, the location is not suitable for a hydro-electric generating station.

  9. The next provincial and municipal and elections are next year, which could create delays and uncertainty. In September 2016 the Ontario government cancelled the procurement of additional renewable energy generation.
  10. Private citizens do initiate lawsuits, as shown by current the action against the MNRF for the 2016 flooding of Lake Muskoka. Some residents of the Moon River may need to do the same if the dangerous situation which would be created is not properly addressed.
  11. According to Transport Canada’s method of calculating the required distance upstream of a hazard to locate a safety boom, the proponent’s proposed upstream safety boom would need to be relocated farther upstream. This would prevent the only boat rental business in the area from renting boats.
  12. Even if investors had limited liability, lawsuits due to the unaddressed dangers or injuries would result in long-term operating losses as the proposed generating station may not be allowed to operate while costs would continue; for the operation and maintenance of the Bala dams, for the insurance and maintenance of the equipment in the proposed generating station, and for the legal costs.

In summary, the construction of this proposed project would be a disaster for all involved.

Contact us
This article presents our observations and facts known to us. We would be pleased to answer questions and provide additional details. Contact us at

  7 Responses to “Dear potential investors, are you the “smart money”, or the other kind”

  1. Mitchell, there are not enough words to thank you for all the effort you have put in to stop this insanity. I feel some hope that the project may go away. Please keep letting us know who to write and what to post to support all your hard work-you have lots of people with passion to back you up!.

  2. An excellent article. Thank you Mitchell Shnier for your relentless efforts to save the Falls..

  3. I propose that any potential investor read this thorough article. If they still wish to throw their money down the drain (or in this case, down the hydro dam) I suggest they see a shrink.

  4. Thank you so much for the update Mitchell Shnier. If I am read correctly I see that the project is in real danger of not happening and that is the best outcome for all. Considering what the Ontario government under Kathleen Wynne has done with Ontario Hydro and the Green Energy plan, driving up rates, selling electricity to other regions far below costs and not to mention the unsightly turbines all over the south I just don’t see any reason to produce more when they say we are always in a surplus situation.
    Keep up the fight!!

  5. Thank you Mitchell and your associates for your commitment ,endurance and passion to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Your efforts are a benefit to the whole community in more ways than one.
    Thank you again
    The Bodrug Family enjoying Bala over 55 years.

  6. Thanks Mitchell for all the wonderful work you have done: we who are immediately next to the south Falls and our neighbors across the bay who would be greatly impacted by this “Hydro plant” being built. You have done so much for all of to keep us up to date, …The Jackson/Mckee families

  7. Thank-you, Mitchell Shnier and Save the Bala Falls. This does give me some hope!

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