Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Bala Falls Hydro Project -part 1

A new project, Bala Falls Hydro Dam, has spawned much excitement in our quiet town. Those posting on the "Save the Bala Falls " site, in poorly written text, often in the wee hours of the morning, with the odd swear word, claim no benefits to the community. If they want to play with the movers and shakers in Toronto, they have to get organized and clean up their act! 

They post contact information for politicians and do not understand the levels of government with whom they must entertain discourse. This is a provincial initiative, with strict standards and an approval process that depends up several government standards. There are the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act requirements. The project is also subject to provincial authority under Ontario’s Environmental Assessment Act (O.Reg. 116/01).  

Another humorous point is that those citing Environmental Hazards continue to use motorboats on our lakes, damaging air, and water, while purporting to care for our precious shorelines. Purk's rents motorboats to tourists who do not necessarily understand marine laws. They claim there is little information, yet the website and the information sessions have been well-attended and the newspaper coverage consistent. (Consistently biased, I might add!) 

Many cottagers do not read the local papers, many more are renting out their cottages and these renters have little compassion for the rest of the Muskoka population, seasonal or otherwise. The supposedly "National" papers, as well as other media, are Toronto-centric. Weather forecasts are a simple indicator. While many travel north to cottage country, they do not understand local issues, nor do they seem able to consider 'locals', as they call us. We are simply a highway, with a beer store and LCBO for convenience. Our weekend visitors need to take the initiative and become more involved. 

Cottage owners need to understand the 24/7 infrastructure that must be in place. What is in the best interests of this town, not just 3-season cottagers? This town is slowly dying with many stores either remain unopened in high season, abandoned, or for for sale. There are issues around a store, Purk's, on leased MNR land, as discussed in the local paper. A store that sells water sports supplies, bait & tackle, etc., and will be closed once the construction takes place after Cranberry season. 

Lots of biased press articles ( Aug. 20, Aug. 13 & July 16 ) , aforementioned owner's letter-to-the-editor is in the paper, and extensive interviews do not provide a balanced discourse, required for such a project. The only people interviewed and quoted in the paper (from the public) who are those pissed off, both of the affected store owners had their fair say. The "Antique Store" in this spot is in a lovely old church and has only been owned for a year or so and has goods
I would question as antiques. Perhaps it could be moved. There are lots of places with better parking in other places in town where both of these businesses could locate. Many were afraid to speak out at the Aug. 13th meeting, the information is posted on their website, and none were approached by media in attendance except those already registering their objections. Some asked Swift Energy good questions, which were duly answered. There were some interesting discussions around the poster displays, rather than rants. Some, like myself, had an open mind. Of course people like me did not draw press attention! They want screaming, irate, irrational people for press quotes!

My concern remains around our phenomenal EMS crews who continue to provide us with incredible service. This would be the impact for those of us who live and work here full-time. It would be great if traffic in Bala would slow down. Traffic will have to be carefully managed, I worry for my safety on this road much of the time. On our regular walks we are threatened by either speeding cars, those who ignore traffic safety while on vacation (signaling, doing the speed limit), or snowmobiles. I am prepared for some pain for environmental gains. A watched river will be a healthy river.

The Bracebridge dam is an incredible sight, with many tourists visting. Surely the gas discharge into the lake from power boats, aging septic systems, garbage from tourists, those who pollute air, land and water and citiots who fail to understand our environment, are doing more damage than the impact of this dam. Many abuse our roads and waterways, as well as neighbours who seek peace and quiet and to embrace nature. Those of us who live and work in Muskoka must have a voice. Bridge repairs are important to protect us. Our voices are diminished by shrill objectors who rant about failing businesses and ineffectual politicians. Our politicians have been hired to fulfill their mandates and do what is best for residents, cottagers, township, and the environment.

There are those who perceive small Muskoka towns as a bit of collateral damage on highways, and an intrusion on their route further north. They speed through towns and never stop. They impatiently drive around those waiting to make a turn. We need to slow traffic down and have them appreciate the beauty of this town. Many businesses are for sale, parking is difficult, and we need to develop some character to attract those who will help us invest in the town.

We have cottaged here since 1960 and have seen tremendous changes. Those who rent or cottage short-term do not understand this town. We need sustainability, jobs, a strong infrastructure, and good people who live, work and love this town. When we visited Niagara, we went to Ball's Falls - a great, natural site that draw visitors and environmentalists and provides information and a resource centre. This appears to be a well-researched project, with many plans, preparations and a positive response to local concerns, and Ontario will learn from it. It is exciting to see the possibilities of the future. Many environmentalists are coming up with clever ways to save our planet.

One Blogger runs his car on used cooking oil and his house is heated on a water-source heat pump from well water. I have great hopes that these types of initiatives bode well for the future. Every little bit of clean energy helps our grandchildren. For subsequent posts see: Dambusters (post #2) & Bala Hydro Project -part 3


Anonymous said...

You do not seem very well informed and appear to be acting as a puppet of Dalton McGuinty. Your comments about those postings on the site are in my opion prudish and mean spirited. Just like Dalton. Not everyone has a dictionary jammed in their brain. Too bad Facebook doesn’t offer spell/Grammer check.

I oppose this development in principle because this site and the technology proposed are inappropriate relative to the character of the site and other hydro generation opportunities in the province.

There are thousands of potentially better sites in the province that ought to be released for hydro generation projects and as yet are not. Secondly, there are better technologies for hydro power generation at Bala, which have a lower impact, than what the proponent is proposing. These technologies were not adequately considered.

This project is labeled as a Government response to growing demand for green energy. Why then is the policy pertaining to hydro site releases being created by the MNR instead of the Ministry of Energy? The Ministry of Natural Resources has no business dictating energy policy. We must encourage the province to look at better hydro generation technologies and to create a fairer and more workable hydro site release policy.

It is my belief that the MNR released the Bala site, ahead of thousands of better sites, because they prefer to offload the operation of both Bala dams onto the private sector. I think that water level monitoring and log removal and maintenance is too much bother for the MNR. Thus the MNR site release policy may have been deliberately authored to achieve this goal and thus, has nothing to do with energy policy.

In future, try not to paint everyone with the same brush.

... Smells Like Fries said...

Anonymous' posting is just plain dumb.

Jenny Jill is just about the last person in the world I'd pick as a "policial puppet" are you flat-out accuse her of. No one "has a dictionary jammed in their brain". If the cause of stopping the falls is so important (as it may be) then do your cause justice and RESEARCH and EDUCATE yourself before looking like a nut-job.

On to the hard facts:
- Are there better sites? You'll be hard pressed to find a generating site that is so complete and ready as Bala Falls. OPG would not touch the generating station because it's so small (<$1B/yr income). Swift Energy is a medium business, so the <$5M/yr they'd get from the falls power station (minus expenses) would go a long way. How did I get this number? OPG's RESOP programs offers $0.11/kWh for "green" generation. The station is spec'd at 5MegaWatt, multiply and you get $5M/yr if it runs 24-7.
- What "technology" are you talking about? Hydro "technology" hasn't changed in 50years. Water moves down through a turbine, then into a spillway.
- MNR *must* be consulted for anything that effects a watershed. The Ministry of Energy has no business dictating environmental policy.
- Of course the government is offloading green policies to private sector. They realize that no single "green" technology is the clear winner yet so they're letting the private sector take the financial risk. Research the OPG's RESOP program, it'll give you the full scope of the program. I've looked into it and my big complain is they don't make it easy enough for individuals to participate. But that's discussed on my blog.
- same brush? Pardon, but you're polar. Jenny's asking for a discussion of the facts and you're slamming her as a political puppet. "If someone doesn't support you they're part of a conspiracy" - hardly magnanimous of you.

Next time, don't post anonymously and you'll get more respect from me - for whatever that's worth.

Anonymous said...

The use of the Bala Falls to produce hydro is exactly what we must do to reduce our dependency on oil, the self serving motives of a one tiny bait shop should be dismissed, so long Purks make way for progress!

Anonymous said...

I've lived in Torrance for over 20 years now but have visited Bala before then. The Bala Falls is a tourist attraction and a wedding photo in the making. To bring a hydro electric facility there would be an eye sore. It would no longer be called a "Falls" but rather a trickle. To get the energy needed from the water they would have to dam it up, flooding the land before it and reducing the water level on the other side. Now I could be wrong. But I'm also thinking about the mess the construction of this would cause to traffic. It would be a NIGHTMARE!!!!! I drive a school bus from Walker's Point to Glen Orchard and it would hold up traffic for many a km not to mention the time it would take for emergency vehicles to get through. Hopefully someone can hold on that long waiting for an ambulance or a fire truck to save your house from burning to the ground. There are other means of energy saving devices to use, such as solar and wind turbines. Turbines can go up on large hills. They are no more of an eye sore than the cell phone towers or radio towers. They serve a purpose without destroying the natural beauty of the Falls. And I'm not afraid to post my name. My name is Melinda Gostick and I want to save the Bala Falls from destruction so MY grandchildren and theirs can enjoy it for years and years to come!!!

Jenn Jilks said...

It is great to see a real discussion of facts.
You state, Melinda, that the fall will be a "trickle" and I wondered where you got this fact from? There is a difference between facts and opinions . According the the FAQs, Swift River cannot change the water flow, as part of their environmental impact report. If this were the case, then all the dams in the world would be dry and no water would flow. With the drownings associated with same, we know that this is not the case.

Secondly, the water is already dammed, as it has been since the original dam was put in. There will be no flooding. They must operate within the constraints of the Muskoka River Water Management Plan that has been created. The original dam that operated between '24 - '72, did not reduce it.

I agree that EMS response time will be a concern, but I thought that the road will be closed for one night. EMS crews can be forewarned. The road will be reduced to one lane for two weeks.

Again, these are questions that need to be answered, and have been in the FAQs. I am surprised that the NIMBY syndrome is occurring in Bala, in a place where the environment is most at risk. It is good that there will be strict environmental guidelines, with a project run by a CEO with property in this town!

... Smells Like Fries said...

Contrustion sucks - no question.

But remember that for hydro power to work, water MUST flow. No flowing water == no power. As for flooding, the "falls" are really water falls. They're an old damn left in disrepair. The flooding (I strongly expect) would not be noticable to anyone except the people jumping from the bridge.

Matthew DeTerre said...

Are there safety concerns due to increased currents and possible undertow? Will canoes, rowboats and swimmers be at increased risk on the lake side of the falls? I have heard that such underwater conduits can create unpredictable undertow and turbulence. Where will the booms be on the lake side? Will people be at risk of being pulled under when jumping off the train bridge?

Rebecca Dempster

Jenn Jilks said...

Those are good questions. I've checked out the FAQs. They are talking about the booms having to be further out. The dam is flowing now-but there will be a grate on it.I'd like to go up to Bracebridge and see what their damn looks like. The undertow is predictable, and barriers will have to be introduced.

The foolish young men and women are jumping off of the bridge currently, and bragging about it on YouTube --and it is dangerous now!
There are booms in place, but Purk's will be affected.
There are concerns that must be addressed, which is why community engagement is crucial at this time. It seems as if the project is going forward, and the community must take care that they ask these questions. The protest movement is a terrific example of everyone working together, but there are a lot of Stakeholders involved and levels of government.

Anonymous said...

Jenny draws attention to the "poorly written text". Smells like fries could stand a refresher in text writing too. First paragraph is almost unintelligible.

I agree with fries that those "nut jobs" need to do a much better job at crafting their messages and forming their strategies.

Fries is very selective with his facts and should explain where the 7000 megawatts (post coal) will come from. I don’t think he can because a provincial strategy doesn’t exist. I question his credentials to make the statement (Hydro "technology" hasn't changed in 50years.) He should know that Natural Resources Canada promotes ongoing research into low head technologies. http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/es/etb/cetc/cetc01/TandI/lowhead_very_e.htm

Fries missed the point that the government is not offloading green policies to private sector. It is offloading the task of removing logs and monitoring water levels onto a private company under the guise of a green energy project. Can fries explain the MNR's reasons for not releasing the thousands of other potential hydropower sites in the province? Probably not, since the MNR won't answer that question. If they won't release the other sites then is new hydro really the way to go?

I don’t think that anonymous sounds too “polar” and his/her comment does help Jenny achieve a frank and open discussion of the facts. Perhaps he/she should have said not everyone is a B.A. (ECE), B.Ed., M. Ed.

In the case of Bala every kilowatt DOESN'T count due to high the social, economic and environmental costs. In Bala, the end doesn't justify the means.

Jenn Jilks said...

I think our ubiquitous 'anonymous' of Oct. 26, needs help with the short forms in the 2nd paragaph:

<$1B/yr = less than $1 billion/year

All of my 20-something friends tend to speak in short forms and emoticons. It shortens and simplifies.

It is a more sophisticated form of text, rather than 'poorly written'. All of the folks involved in the renewable energy field speak/write this way! There is a huge community of like-minded people and I have great hope for the future.

withheld said...

I find some have failled to see that this watershed is rather large. The watershed goes all the way up to the top of algonquin park over to Haliburton down to Gravenhurst. This is one of the biggest in ontario. Now the point is simple there are very few other sites with this water flowing through them. Saying there are thousands is nowhere near correct. We need to remember also that not in my back yard seems to be the way everyone is thinking. Also one more major point is when producing power distance of tranmision eqauls power loss. This helps limit sites and if the site can be close to a town well the better. So this will make a great location for a power station. Now the swimming from the bridge is not only foolish but illegal as well. So this shouldnt even be a point but leading by example by saying yes even in our back yard.

Anonymous said...

The south channel solution is not perfect but it is one H**L of a lot better than development of the north site. If the town cannot agree that this is a better solution, then we may be stuck with the destruction proposed at the towns most treasured site. I verily beleive that the vast majority of resonable people oppose development of the north site for obvious reasons.

The south channel option does not bring on any new danger that isn’t already there.

We just want to know if the south channel is a viable location and if it is THE preferred location from a social, economic, visual, health, safety and environmental perspective. Please work with us to look into these issues.

Jenn Jilks said...

Well, Bala Falls, then you ought to keep fighting city hall! I laud you on your journey. This development will have very little effect on me. I do not swim, boat or bridge jump on the Moon River, I have never been in Lake Muskoka.

There are a number of points of view on this issue, it is important to reflect all of them, from local, regional, to provincial stakeholders. It is important that all of them are reflected in the media.

There are a lot of people who seem concerned and you have to fight for what you believe in. I hope you find some folks who will support you in your cause.

Bala Falls said...

It seems that our local Councillors are not particularly supportive of our position on the south channel, and I understand that they have decided to "do the job they were elected to do, not to represent the loudest activists" that may be trying to get their attention at a particular time.

Perhaps there are an overwhelming number of people that would prefer the power station be in the south channel.

Does the opinion of the people on either side of the debate matter at this time?

Jenn Jilks said...

It would appear to me that our duly elected local Councillors have listened, as they have been elected to do. They have weighed information, including all points of view, and come up with a determination that includes ALL stakeholders (animate and inanimate).

There are many, like myself, who have quietly contacted the powers-that-be (various levels of government), and others, like yourself, Jeff, who have been loud activists. All of us have an equal voice.

Jeff Mole said...


I agree we all have an equal voice. In fairness though, shouldn't the councilors try to exercise impartiality?
Some members of the community support a plan to thoroughly consider allowing development in the south channel, by a renewable energy co-op, or by a municipal corporation, or by SWIFT RIVER ENERGY LTD. or by some other proponent because this may be a more appropriate location for a range of reasons.
Support (in principle) was given from both tiers of municipal government such that the DISTRICT MUNICIPALITY OF MUSKOKA will consider allowing the use of Municipal land at the north site as a means to mitigate the impact of a development on the crown land. Accordingly, why shouldn’t council agree in principal to consider allowing use of municipal property in the south channel for a hydro development if it may help mitigate these same concerns.