Over the last few months, significant changes to the proposed Bala hydro plant have come to light. Swift River Energy Limited, the private Toronto Company driving this project, is finally releasing a few details of their newly proposed design and are now attempting to rush it through Township and District approvals before the public becomes fully aware of their broken promises, in an to attempt to begin construction this spring. What is the rush?
Originally, Swift River Energy stated “Our intention is to harmonize the architecture of the new facility with the natural environment of the site by installing a low-profile power house built mostly underground (bunker-type). Its roof will be below road level. We will not use Township land.” But this is old news. This is the bait.
Here’s the switch part. Their current proposal is now for:
· A large building rising nearly three storeys (28 feet) above Highway 169, directly beside the scenic North Falls, a few feet from the roadway, stretching down to the river.
· A building representing a 48% increase in size over the version presented for the environmental assessment and which, with its driveway, will stretch 52 feet along the roadway, thus replacing many beautiful mature trees.
· A proposed widening of Highway169 during construction which will eliminate many of the remaining trees on this land, leaving a barren property and a large building to frame the once iconic Bala Falls; ruining the primary tourist attraction in West Muskoka. Use of Township of Muskoka land south of the north falls as a staging area.
· Construction which now calls for blasting a 30’ x 30’ tunnel in the base rock directly adjacent to the Highway 169 Bridge causing significant delays while putting at risk the bridge foundations and the only route through West Muskoka other than detouring via Highway 400.
· The plant to make hundreds of feet of the limited public shoreline in Bala too dangerous to access, which will likely result in high fencing around the area to protect the public by denying them access to the river.
· The plant to include Cycling, in addition to the originally promised exclusive Run of River, to allow the developer to take advantage of premium rates during peak electrical usage periods and allow this private-for-profit contractor to significantly reduce scenic flow over both Bala falls throughout the year and to manage water levels for all the Muskoka lakes.
· Total blockage of the historic Bala Portage, thus insulting the Heritage of the First Nations who settled the region, and forcing the use of more dangerous and less viable routes elsewhere for youth campers and others.
Why is this hugely unpopular project being allowed to proceed? This will result in a devastating blow to Bala and its tourism-based economy, not to mention the hugely significant loss to Muskoka of one of its most accessible, beautiful and natural landmarks. We have to stand up and protect this unique gem from a bullying Provincial Government, and an aggressive proponent, and let them know they do not have the right to force this on our region and further reduce Ontario’s stock of remaining unexploited and undefaced waterfalls.
Ontario’s Auditor General has stated that these small power projects – based on the Green Energy Act’s Feed in Tariff program – are no longer needed due to over-capacity, and that they are a direct contributor to the rapidly-rising hydro rates in the province. The power from this project will simply add to the growing sell-off of excess energy to the US at great losses to the province, while we, the taxpayers, pay significantly over-cost guaranteed rates to a few private profiteers for the next 40 years, to enable the MNR to get out of controlling the Bala dams and to allow the provincial government to adhere to its narrow and redundant ideology.
We are asking for your support to help us save our heritage and nature’s gift of the Bala Falls for the enjoyment of future generations of residents and visitors; not for the future generation of cash for a private developer. Go to www.savethebalafalls.com to join the growing opposition to the proposed construction and add your support. You can also check out social media under Save The Bala Falls, and make your view known there.
Ted Farley Bala, Ontario