Friday 30 April 2010

Bala Falls Hydro Project part 14

Where are they in the process?

SREL was notified this month that it will be offered a long term contract from the Ontario Power Authority to purchase all power produced at its proposed 5 MW waterpower plant in Bala, ON.  This is a major milestone in the development process of this project.

Swift River Energy Limited (SREL) plans to invest approx. $22.5 million in reestablishing a small hydro plant a Bala as part of an estimated $50MM to be spent over the next few years in the area on clean, green, sustainable Energy.  Bracebridge Generation has announced plans to spend $18 MM in small hydro upgrades in local communities and the Wasdell Falls project, near Washago on the Severn River, is another nearby small hydro project currently under development.

Many issues have arisen from the environmental screening process, and unfortunately there is still a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding about the project in the community. Smoke and mirrors are up to help one mayoral candidate earn photo-ops and media opportunities, despite the fact that a mayor must represent ALL stakeholders. This candidate does not live or own property in Muskoka. I would hope that this valuable project will move forward to benefits all Ontarians, and bring commerce to a town that virtually shuts down, in terms of business, in November.

I post answers to these questions from SREL.

This is a summary of some of the recurring issues raised through the press and extensive community engagement and outreach programs.

Where are we in the process for the project?

SREL   issued the Notice of Completion on October 14, 2009 signaling the start of a public review period.  The mandatory review period, as per the regulations, is 30 days.  SREL voluntarily extended this review period by 50% (or two weeks) to 44 days.  During that period the Ministry of Environment received a number of elevation requests from members of the public and others to “bump up” our screening to either an “Environmental Review” or an “Individual Environmental Assessment”.  All requests have been forwarded to SREL and have now been reviewed by SREL.  Given the public response to the environmental screening, SREL has offered all parties that submitted an elevation request a chance to meet with them personally, along with SREL’s consultant Hatch, to discuss the issues outlined in the submission.

Meetings were offered in Burlington, Toronto and Muskoka to allow for the fact that many of the stakeholders reside throughout the province and beyond.  SREL has also provided formal responses to all elevation requests and summaries of the meetings to those that attended a meeting.

All correspondence with the stakeholders was be copied to MOE, and in turn all correspondence with the MOE regarding the stakeholder will be copied to that stakeholder.  It is now expected that MOE will complete its review of the screening and provide a ruling on the elevation requests.  This is expected to occur this spring.  The ruling can be anywhere along the spectrum of “the elevation request is granted” to “the elevation request is denied”.  Possible middle ground options would be an approval with any number of conditions.

Can the project be moved to the south falls (left)?

The site release process undertaken by MNR was for the North Bala Dam location.  SREL applied for the available site.  The south channel has never been offered by the MNR for development.  There are feasibility issues with attempting to construct a viable generating facility in the south channel, assuming it was available.  This was made obvious following a preliminary high-level examination of the potential of the south channel for development.

For the Period During Construction:


The attached Figure 5.4 of the Environmental Screening Report clearly indicates what areas will be restricted to the public for safety reasons during the estimated 12-18 month construction period.


SREL understands the importance of maintaining a reasonable traffic flow along Muskoka Road 169 (MR-169) during the tourist season.  Therefore, a plan has been devised to minimize impacts on traffic during the 12-18 month construction period.

It is proposed to start construction after the Cranberry Festival in October.  Road work will be the first priority for construction to ensure it is done during the off-peak “winter” season.

 MR-169 will be reduced to one-lane, controlled either by flagman or temporary traffic light, for a period of two weeks while the contractor installs a bridge foundation on the opposite side of the road.  This process will then be repeated for the other side of the road for an additional two week period (total of 4 weeks of one-lane road reductions during the winter).
MR-169 will then be completely shut down for one night between the bridge over the north channel and Bala Falls Road, while the contractor installs a pre-fabricated, temporary, Bailey bridge atop of the new foundations.

The following morning traffic will return to two-lanes while the contractor completes the excavation and construction activities under the road.
Prior to the Victoria Day weekend, the road will again be closed for one night to remove the Bailey bridge, followed by two, 2-week one-lane reductions to remove the temporary foundations. (total of 4 weeks of one-lane road reductions during the spring).
By Victoria Day, traffic will be back on the natural road surface for the remainder of the project.  The contractor will then continue the works located on either side of the road.

Safety and Security

The construction site / restricted area as outlined on Figure 5.4 of the Environmental Screening Report will be fenced to keep members of the public out during the construction period for safety reasons.  Safety in the areas outside of the restricted areas should not be affected.


In Ontario, no approval is required for construction noise from the province.  The noise during construction would, however, have to comply with municipal bylaws.  It can be expected that blasting will be heard during the one summer in the construction period.  This is, however, inevitable for a project of this nature in Muskoka.


The nature of construction for this type of project will likely cause some dirt and dust in the area immediately adjacent to the site.  All efforts will be made to contain the dirt and dust, and to clean up regularly where possible.

Communication Plan

SREL is proposing to put together a team of business owners, residents, SREL and the Contractor to facilitate discussion of issues that periodically arise during the construction period as well as developing a plan for communications to the community.

Disruption to Businesses/Business Open

The construction activities should not cause disruption to businesses in the area, with the exception of the immediate neighbours:  Purk’s Place (above left) and the Stone Church (left).  SREL are in discussions with these businesses to determine how to best facilitate them during the construction period.

Employment / Business Opportunities

Based on suggestions from the Township and members of the public, SREL are seriously considering completing an Economic Impact Study, should we determine that it could provide useful information to ourselves and the community.  We are currently contacting various economic consultants to discuss the terms of reference for such a study.

A large construction project such as the one SREL are proposing, can be expected to provide some construction opportunities in the area as Contractors generally try to hire local labour.  It is estimated that 4,000 to 6,000 person hours will be required for this project.

In addition, we foresee direct business opportunities for various service and retail industries in Bala and Muskoka with respect to lodging, restaurants, building supplies, fuel etc., while the contractor work force is in town for the 12-18 month period.  It is estimated that an average of 15 workers will be required on site during this period.  These direct opportunities generally result in “trickle down” or indirect opportunities for other business’ in town that may see more business because the neighbouring businesses are profiting.

In addition, this may be an opportunity for some of the seasonal businesses, in particular for lodgings, to make the investment to winterize their facilities if they have a known revenue stream for 12-18 months.  Then after the construction is over, these facilities will be ready to accept snowmobiling or other winter customers in future years.  It should be noted that SREL and the Township of Muskoka Lakes are in discussions about SREL assisting the Township to install a new year round snowmobile/pedestrian bridge from Diver’s point to the Public Docks that would further enhance the snowmobile industry for the area.

SREL are also in the process of investigating the options for including a “buy local where possible” policy in its agreements with the project contractors.

SREL is committed to working with the community to ensure that existing tourism events are minimally affected during the construction period.  By completing all road work during the off-peak season, road interruptions should be minimized.  Much of this could be attained by restricting or limiting construction activities during these events which generally occur on weekends. (Regatta – Civic holiday weekend, Cranberry Festival – Weekend after Thanksgiving, Craft and Gift Fair – 2 weekends: July and Oct, Antique and Nostalgia Show – 2 weekends July and October, Santa Clause Parade – weekend in November).  Other events such as the summer market that occurs on Mondays will have to be investigated with the Contractor and market organizer.
For the Long Term Operations Period:

Landscaping /Attractiveness

SREL is committed to forming a Public Advisory Group to gather local input on the landscaping, park design and proposed illustrative / interpretive plaques for the project.

Tourist Access

The attached Figure 6.5 from the Environmental Screening Report clearly outlines the restricted areas for the long term operations period.  A wheel chair accessible lookout will be located near the MR-169 and a walking trail will be provided down to another, lower, lookout at the water’s edge.  For those wanting to get to the water, a new set of stairs is proposed from MR-169 to the base of south side of the north falls.  The area to the south of the powerhouse will be accessible by walking down landscaping tiers.


It is recognized that there will be an increased risk posed by increased flows related to the project. Areas where velocities and flows will be consistently high during operation include upstream in the vicinity of the intake and downstream in the immediate vicinity of the tailrace. These high velocity areas will be restricted by booms and/or fencing.

On the upstream side of the facility, velocities upstream of the boom will allow boating to continue as is presently the case. All activities related to the annual regatta will be able to proceed as normal. This includes any swimming associated with the regatta. The town docks will not be significantly affected based on the current uses. Transport Canada is the governmental agency responsible for assessing suitability of areas for boating. Transport Canada has confirmed that the Town Docks would be able to be used safely during the project operation. Transport Canada has also confirmed that the Regatta activities may be conducted in their present form following the building of the project.

Areas downstream of the facility outside of the zone restricted by the safety boom will not be significantly affected for navigation. In fact, Transport Canada has noted that the area south of the tailrace will in fact be safer following the construction of the facility. This is because the floe from the tailrace will eliminate the swirling (circular) flow which presently occurs in that area during high flows. The removal of this swirling water will allow easier handling of small vessels in that zone.

On-Going Employment

SREL is proposing to hire Bracebridge Generation, a branch of Lakeland Holdings out of Bracebridge, for the plant operations, maintenance and management.  Bracebridge generation has indicated that they foresee hiring additional staff for this role.

Tourist Attraction

SREL’s vision for the project is to incorporate a public park atop the buried powerhouse.  This park will include lookouts over the Moon River as well as indigenous vegetation and interpretive signage.  It is SREL’s intention that this area will become a tourist attraction once complete, where people can view the water and witness renewable generation.

As stated in the ESR, SREL is committed to the following:
  • Ensuring access is maintained to both sides of the north and south falls
  • Professionally landscaping the area to create a public park and river/sunset view lookout
  • Providing an upper lookout area adjacent to the road, that is handicap accessible
  • Incorporating interpretive signage into the site to describe the heritage of the area and its history with waterpower.
  • Assisting the Township with the constructing/installation of a year round snowmobile/pedestrian bridge between the Bala wharf and Diver’s Point.  The details of this are, however, still to be discussed.


SREL and its operator are committed to public and school tours of the facility on designated dates.

Lighting of the park area will be designed with input from a local Public Advisory Group for the project during the detailed design stage.  It has already been suggested by the Township and others that all lighting should be “dark sky” lighting.

Water Levels / Flooding

The MNR is responsible for ensuring that water levels and flows are managed appropriately. There is an existing Muskoka River Water Management Plan (*MRWMP).  This water management plan will be adhered to during operation of the facility. MNR has conducted extensive review of the proposed facility management and made contributions toward its final version. The proposed facility will be operated to maintain Muskoka Lake levels and flows and levels through the Moon River (Bala Reach) in accordance with the MRWMP. There will be no increase in the water levels as a result of the plant operation. MNR will be responsible for ensuring compliance of the operator, as they presently do for the other operators within the watershed.


Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada (DFO) is the federal agency responsible for fish habitat, while the MNR is the provincial agency responsible for fish community and fisheries. A Fisheries Act Authorization is issued by DFO when the impacts to fish habitat are adequately mitigated. A mitigation plan has been proposed. A Fisheries Act Authorization application will be filed with the DFO. This typically follows the submission of the environmental screening report. The DFO and MNR have reviewed the environmental screening report. They have provided comments and these are being addressed by Swift River. Application for Fisheries Act authorization will be filed thereafter.

Scenic Flow

There will be reduced average flows over both the North and South Bala Falls following the construction of the project. Year-round flows over the North Falls will be comparable to those typically seen during the dryer portions of summer. Flows over the south falls will be lower than typically seen during the year. Flows of 1m3/s have been proposed over the North and South Falls throughout the year with an increase to 2m3/s proposed at the South channel during the summer tourist (viewing) period. The existing Muskoka River Water Management Plan stipulates a summer minimum of 1m3/s at each of the two dams. This stipulated minimum summer flow is the basis for SREL’s proposed flows at the two dams.  SREL is proposing that a group be established to discuss/propose aesthetic flows for the summer tourist season. The final decision on flows will be made by the Province and, if different from the existing minimum flow requirements in the water management plan, will need to be included in an amendment to the plan.   The proposed flows as described above are noted in the environmental screening report.


The Ministry of Environment (MOE) is the government agency responsible for ensuring that noise levels are in compliance with provincial standards. A Certificate of Approval is issued by the MOE when the proposed noise levels are satisfactory to the MOE. As part of this approval process, a noise study (acoustic assessment) has to be prepared. The MOE has reviewed the noise study completed for the facility and has found it to be satisfactory. This covers noise which will come from the operating facility.  The MOE as part of its mandate will conduct noise audits on the facility to ensure compliance. As is noted repeatedly in the acoustic report, SREL is committed to undertaking any noise mitigation needed to ensure compliance with the noise thresholds at the receptors.

Tax rates

It is doubtful that this project will have any effect on tax rates for the community.  SREL will be required to pay the province a Gross Revenue Charge for use of the water resource in lieu of municipal taxes.


SREL is not applying for any subsidies for this project.  All power from this project will be sold to the Ontario Power Authority under a feed-in tariff contract as part of the Green Energy Act.  While the ESR refers to an application made to Natural Resources Canada for an EcoEnergy Incentive, this project has currently been removed from the federal budget and therefore, no longer available at this time.

Benefits to the Town/District

As stated above, SREL is currently considering completing an Economic Impact Study to investigate the impacts to the Town/District during the construction and operation stages of the project.  The results of this study will be made available when completed.

Benefits to the town during the operations stage include:
  • Possible assistance with construction of year round pedestrian/snowmobile bridge (pending further discussions).
  • New professionally landscaped park with lookouts and interpretive signage.
  • Tours of facility.
  • Employment / business opportunity for local business (Bracebridge Generation).


It is our understanding that the Provincial Government does not generally require such a thing for these types of projects.  However, SREL are required to provide security to the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) under our Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) application and eventual FIT contract to ensure that we do proceed to Commercial Operation. In addition, both the original MNR site release program and the recent OPA FIT application required verification of SREL’s financial capability to complete the project.

For more information contact Swift River Energy Project (SREL).

*MRWMP - Cover & Table of Contents
1 Plan Approval
2 Introduction
3 Physical and Biological Environment
4 Social and Economic Environment
Figure 4.1 - Land Tenure and Major Infrastructure
Figure 4.2 - Recreation and Tourism
5 Water Control Structures and Water Power Facilities
6 Issues, Resource Vaues and Interests
7 Initial Data Gaps and Deficiencies
8 Baseline Data Collection
9 Option Development Process
10 Evaluation Criteria
11 Preferred Strategy and Comparison with Current Operation
12 Operating Plans
13 Compliance Monitoring Plan
14 Effectiveness Monitoring Program
15 Data Gaps, Science and Information Needs
16 Plan Implementation
17 Plan Term, Amendments, Review and Renewal
References and Reference Information
Addendum for Background Information Report

Woman by the moon

A tricky item to photograph! Here is another take on the whole attempt! Everything is a learning opportunity!

Stakeholders in Bala Falls part 13

Unanswered questions about Bala hydroelectric project

'The recent article by Karen Longwell regarding the proposed hydroelectric project in Bala lacks balance and is short on facts.'  So says one comment. Well, not so. The facts are being skewed.
It would appear that Karen Longwell, as a journalist, is listening to all sides. Ms. Longwell did a good job.

Grady slams energy co-op idea in Bala

MUSKOKA LAKES — A request for donations for a new co-operative hydroelectric project in Bala is irresponsible, according to one district councillor.
Yes, Councillor Grady knows what is up. 

Many who comment lack credibility, truth and information. They continue to have a vested interest from a business owner perspective, or from political motives, not from a taxpayer perspective.

I do not believe that the public can run a hydro dam, as TheMole presents. I do not believe that we can wait any longer for this project. Bala is dying, businesses are closing. Major stakeholders are mistaking the project eyed with NIMBY-coloured glasses. TheMole cannot run a project like this, despite his delusions, AND run for election.

The South Dam is not an option. This has been researched. Despite this TheMole continues to both run for office and promote a fundraising lobby to take over the project through the north dam.

[57.jpg]A mayor needs to represent ALL stakeholders, not just cottagers on Moon River. The dam is NOT a recreation area. The fearmongers have been misled by the vocal, outspoken few with few facts. Too many have died there already. It has to be respected as human harnessing of a vast amount of water. Before the first dam, the water levels changed by 9'. The recent dam controls levels, as will a new, more modern dam. Safety barriers will be put in place. Cottagers, tourists, full-time residents, and business owners will benefit by marketing this project as a bonus for a new opportunity to move into the modern world. We can produce a safe dam, and market it like the Bracebridge project (pictured left).


Swift River Energy Limited (SREL) is a 100% Canadian owned company with a mission to develop small, low-impact, run-of-river waterpower generating facilities.  SREL is currently in the final stages of the Environmental Screening process for the construction of a 4-5 MW run-of-river waterpower facility at the Ministry of Natural Resource’s (MNR) existing North Bala Dam.  This was one of the first sites MNR released as part of its competitive site release program in 2005.   The Bala Falls project exemplifies Muskoka’s commitment to conservation and renewable power.  By producing power locally, the need for new large transmission line projects in the area is reduced.  The project will generate in excess of 5,000 person days of labour during the construction period.  A large percentage of the estimated $14.5 million total construction costs is expected to be spent locally.  SREL are planning on burying the powerhouse and professionally landscaping on top to create a public park / sunset lookout complete with interpretive signage describing the heritage of the area and its roots in renewable energy.  By developing this project, SREL will help Ontario realize its goals under the Green Energy Act of: expanding Ontario’s use of clean and renewable sources of energy; creating 50,000 “green collar” jobs over the next 3 years; and protecting the environment by offsetting coal generation and its related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the fight against climate change.  

Wednesday 28 April 2010

Remember when?

I remember when I didn't have to listen to people yelling on their phone in a small space, or even in public. I remember when 'please', 'thank you', 'you're welcome', and 'yes', were more common than 'no problem', 'whatever', 'like', or 'Yeah'.

...When you didn't have to teach people how to treat you?
When all that worried you were those banging on your front door asking for money, not in 250 email/pop-up or twitters per day.

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Walk on the tame side

Yes, hubby had a meeting at the band office in Wahta Mohawk Territory. I decided to drive with him, and walk along highway #38. he could pick me up on the way home. I figured I could stop when I was tired, or walk back. There is a lot of traffic on #38.

The vistas are beautiful. From a long history of poverty and a meagre existence in fall of 1881, our Wahta Mohawks have a beautiful band office, and the farms that dot the highway are wonderful, nestled in with the bogs, trees, and flourishing Native operations.

I gave up trying to photograph the birds, but spotted two red-tailed hawks, a pair of vultures, and various flora and little other fauna. At one point I could hear a rooster crowing!

The trillium are out, as are the tent caterpillars.

Little tiny ones in the heat of the roadside, not yet the voracious adults they will come to be.

The snakes and turtles like to cross the road, to keep us on our toes! Hence the signage.

The puppies cheered me on my way. Sort of a limited fan club!

I love the United Church. Well-cared for grounds, a beautiful sign, with trillium and brightly coloured daffodils. Delightful building.

It was a good hike. About an hour and a half. The blackflies weren't bad, as there was a brisk wind in 20 degrees temperatures on the road. In the rock cuts, where the wind was less, the flies swarmed me.

They are not biting me yet, perhaps not yet egg laying time.
It is chilly in the open at night, down to -3 in open spots, where the airport weather information is gathered in Gravenhurst.

But by the lake, the temperatures are tempered by the lake itself. The lake has temperature inertia, and has kept us up above zero for the most part. I have put my large (5') plants out on the deck, tucked into the balcony, and they have lost a few leaves, but I haven't brought them in yet. Just too much effort.

Monday 26 April 2010

Busy as a beaver

It is true! They are busy! One of the most influencial 4-legged critters in our region and the largest rodent, obvious to all well before written history, before we were Muskoka. Native peoples knew how to harvest such without decimating the natural ecosystem.

I love walking in Muskoka. Lots of natural places. The old snowmobile trails are interesting. We are surrounded by crown land.
I made a video on the event, and the blackflies insisted on getting in on the action. You can see them flitting about —that's for those who keep asking where they are!

Here is a lovely forest walk, with blackflies buzzing.
There is only one Muskoka, it is not: 'The Muskokas'. Muskoka is probably named for Mesqua Ukie, the Ojibwa leader associated with the area during the 1800's. It was then the hunting grounds of a band led by Chief Yellowhead or Mesqua Ukie.

The beaver (castor canadensis). 
They cause a powerful influence on its riparian habitat (check out all my beaver and beaver dam photos).

    Mind you, there are those who run snowmobiles on beaver ponds, leaving behind emissions from two-stoke engines. That is a choice I hope many do not make. This is why it important to stick to official trails.

    Adults usually weigh 15 to 35 kg (33–77 lbs), with 20 kg (44 lbs) a typical mass, and measure around 1 m (3.3 ft) in total body length. Very old individuals can weigh as much as 45 kg (100 lbs).[8] 
    The babies are so wee, here is a YouTube vid, not mine! 
    There are interesting sites that show the cross section of dams, with needs for water levels to keep them safe from predators. 

    I am amazed, with the beavers I've seen around here, how they can handle the logs that they do.

    Beavers are key in a watershed, as they store water for all sorts of critters, and the ponds, wetlands, and meadows formed by beaver dams increases bio-diversity and improves overall environmental quality.

    It is the beaver who can naturally create a wetland, while humans often seek to destroy them. Cottagers do not like them, as they tend to gnaw on the few trees (or docks!) that have not been clear cut when we create a living space. Removal of beaver dams can negatively affect fish and ... removal of a beaver dam may not prevent future beaver activity in the area.[ BEAVER DAM REMOVAL]

    Their dams mitigate flooding, reduce silt, allow roots time to absorb water in an ecosystem in drought conditions. They are an important part of ecosystems.

     Joe Kambietz writes:
    Controlling beavers or destroying their habitat on private, municipal or crown land is complicated greatly by the fact that the beaver is protected under provincial and federal law, as a fur-bearing animal. Also, the breaching of a beaver dam and the subsequent release of a large volume of water, silt and debris may violate the Canadian Fisheries Act and the Provincial Water Act.
    ... Provincial Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection. The Provincial Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection department handles nuisance wildlife calls, they issue trapping licenses and regulate hunting etc. ... Fisheries and Oceans Canada is responsible for migrating fish and their freshwater habitat.
    As with many attempts to control animals, another often moves in.  We know how unsuccessfully humans have had in controlling 4-legged animals, almost as hard as controlling ourselves! You can see the beer can in my video someone stuck on the perimeter of the dam. Plus I spotted 4 beer bottles on the ground.

    Fashionable beaver fur hats in the 1700's resulted in the early exploration of Canada. The trapping caused a decline in the beaver population, their glands were also used for perfume and its medicinal properties.

    Britain and France sent those who established Hudson Bay, and the Great Northwest company in search of valuable furs.

    Nearly extirpated in NA by early trappers, they decreased from about 60 million to an estimate 6 million, according to Wikipedia.

    Robert J. Naiman, Carol A. Johnston, and James C. Kelley (Dec. 1988). "Alteration of North American Streams by Beaver". BioScience: 753–762. Retrieved Feb. 28, 2010.

    Beaver Dam Information Site

    18 Sep 2008 ... Explains how beaver dams elevate water tables in watersheds and establish wetlands. Includes a discussion of the large number of beaver.

    Sunday 25 April 2010

    What does heaven sound like...

    And then there is the best of the Internet.
    This is what I imagine heaven to be!

    Upcoming events in Muskoka

    Hike for  
Hospice Palliative Care logo, May 2, 2010: Hike for Hospice Palliative Care Hike Provincial Hike Locations , 2010: Farmer's Markets begin to open 17, 2010: Capturing the Essence of Algonquin Photography Series
    Enjoy a day of photography capturing the natural beauty of Algonquin Park, beginning with an indoor instructional session and review, followed by an afternoon field excursion for practice. 9: NSM Palliative Care Conference, Casino Rama. I'll be speaking at sessions in the am and pm. 10: Believe Women's Wellness Retreat@Greenestone Bala Muskoka 12/13: Muskoka Arts Tour 11-13: Sign-up for Muskoka Magic Bike Tour 10th, 2010: Grady's Paddle for SickKids Grady's story,

    Register by June 10th for this July 10th Burk's Falls paddling event. 16 —Celtic Women at Casino Rama 17/18Air Show and the 100th anniversary of Bala Bay Inn