Nishikawa to fight defamation charges by fellow councillor Brent

Lawyers for Nishikawa file intent to defend Brent allegations

Published September 17, 2pm: Lawyers representing Muskoka Lakes Councillor Ruth-Ellen Nishikawa have filed a Notice of Intent to Defend allegations she defamed a fellow Councillor.

A statement of defense is expected to follow from law firm Paterson MacDougall in Toronto in the next few days as the Notice was filed September 4 (under the Rules of Civil Procedure, a Notice of Intent normally provides the defence another ten days to file and serve a statement of defence).

The Notice is in response to a claim made against Nishikawa by Ron Brent, also a Muskoka Lakes Councillor, filed August 12th in which he alleges she defamed him by:

a) accusing him of disclosed Closed Session information of Council; and,

b) by questioning a potential conflict of interest. The allegations were made in connection with an email regarding the Bala Falls controversy. See Related Articles for more information.

Brent’s Statement of Claim states Nishikawa was originally given an opportunity to retract and apologize for her comments. The Intent to Defend suggests a day in court could be on the horizon for the two Councillors, who are also candidates in the 2014 municipal election.

Related Articles:

Thursday the last day on the job for Muskoka Lakes by-law officer

Muskoka Lakes Township by-law officer heading to new job in Kitchener

Published September 2, 8pm: The Township of Muskoka Lakes is saying goodbye to its second by-law enforcement officer in two years. Ryan Konrad is moving on to a full-time position as a Fire Prevention Officer with the City of Kitchener.

“This is an exceptional opportunity for Ryan, offering him the focus and career development opportunities that he desires,” says Township Fire Chief Richard Hayes. “Ryan has been a tremendous asset to us in helping develop a solid foundation for the services we provide,” continues Hayes. “His input will aid us in moving forward with a quality Emergency Service.”

Chief Hayes adds Konrad has a personal connection with the fire department in Kitchener. Konrad’s last working day in Muskoka Lakes will be Thursday, September 4, and his first day at work in Kitchener will be September 15.

Konrad had been dividing his time between by-law enforcement and fire safety. At the time of Konrad’s appointment last October, the Fire Chief suggested Council could appoint three part-time deputy by-law officers from within the fire department as a back up for when the primary by-law officer was unavailable. Council turned down the recommendation and Chief Hayes and Deputy Chief Harry Baranik have handled any back up bylaw enforcement. Examples of bylaws enforced include dealing with burning complaints, especially when there is a drought.

Konrad joined Muskoka Lakes in October 2013 following the departure of the township’s first part-time by-law officer, Trevor George, who said he’d originally been looking forward to the full-time position. He withdrew his application in September 2013 citing “interference from Council” as the reason why he changed his mind. George had been hired in September 2012.

Regarding other bylaw matters, Muskoka News Watch asked about statements from citizens who say Deputy Chief Baranik has been ticketing boats at the Torrance dock. Baranik says he has never in his lifetime issued a ticket for a boat. There have been instances this summer where the by-law officer (Konrad) has attached letters on boats left for long periods of time to inform owners about the by-law requirements – but reportedly not one single notice of offence has been issued at the dock in Torrance.

How do by-law complaints work in the Township of Muskoka Lakes? A system is set up that most by-law complaints are directed through the Emergency Management/By-Law Enforcement office. After an initial assessment and possibly an investigation, the complaint is redistributed to the department with oversight jurisdiction (e.g., property standard complaints may be redirected to the building department or the planning department). If the matter is to proceed to a judicial process, the Emergency Management/By-Law Department helps with the court preparation if required.

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Municipal Election 2014 News: Greg Knight enters Township of Muskoka Lakes election race in Ward A

Knight has sights on Ward A Township and District Council seat

Published May 22, 5pm: Greg Knight is the newest contender in the municipal election in the Township of Muskoka Lakes — and the first to announce his plans to represent Ward A (including Walker’s Point, Torrance, and Bala).

Featured picture (top left): Democracy in action: Township Clerk Cheryl Mortimer congratulates Greg Knight on his decision to stand for Township and District Council.

Knight filed his nomination papers this morning to run for the District seat now held by Ruth-Ellen Nishikawa (As a District Councillor, a Councillor has a vote at both Township and at District Council).

With his Muskoka-wide contacts and experience, the Torrance resident believes he is well positioned to represent the Township’s interests at District.

He adds he sent Nishikawa a note last night to let her know he was filing his nomination papers today. Nishikawa has not said whether she’ll seek re-election.

For several years, Knight has been working on socially and environmentally responsible development projects in and around Muskoka, such as Seguin Place in Humphrey, just north of Muskoka Lakes, and a development in Huntsville.

“I’ve had the privilege of working closely with a number of municipalities to create thoughtful development plans to achieve environmental conservation, heritage preservation, and affordable housing initiatives,” says Knight. “This unique exposure to so many different Councils and senior staff has provided experience that I look forward to bringing to the Township and District Council tables.”

Greg Knight Signs Up Muskoka Lakes-20140522-00899
Greg Knight signs in at Township office this morning before filing nomination papers to run in October municipal election

In November 2012, his efforts were applauded by Nishikawa and others (see Related Articles) when he managed to do something no one else in Township was able to do before: to get a grant for the Township of $100,000 to be used for affordable housing. But the plan to build in Bala went bust because of what he called the Mayor’s “approach” in an early meeting about the proposed project. The Mayor later explained that she was “supportive of attainable housing but not supportive of housing, other than ancillary, in the core commercial corridors of our urban communities.” In December 2012, District Councillors voted to shift the grant money from Bala to Huntsville.

Today Knight is still a volunteer member of the Muskoka Attainable Housing Advisory Table, and he says he welcomes the chance to work for the residents of Muskoka Lakes as “we plan for the Muskoka our children will know and love.” Like many people, Knight fell in love with Muskoka Lakes as a child when visiting friends. He now gets to share that experience with his daughter in Torrance at the resort village he owns on Clear Lake.

In his professional life, Knight established Knight Developments in 2004. He holds an M.B.A in Entrepreneurial Studies, a law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School, and he completed his undergraduate degree in Geography.

Related Articles

Bracebridge Examiner, November 2012: Affordable Housing Units Proposed for Bala

Bracebridge Examiner, December 2012: First Affordable Housing Quashed Before it Begins in MuskokaLakes/Bala 

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Muskoka Lakes Mayor announces expansion of Bala hydro plant to Premier

Mayor Murphy trumpets plans to province to upsize one Bala hydro plant while trying to block another; Councillors left out of the loop

Intentional attack on one developer could unintentionally hurt the other, too. Commentary by Norah Fountain. Posted Monday, April 7, 10am.

Mayor, we have a problem. Not only have you once again bypassed your full Council in making a Township water power announcement to the Premier, your actions relating to Bala’s millstream hydro plant seem to echo what you’ve criticized those ‘other’ hydro plant proponents for allegedly doing (public consultation not meeting your standards, not enough  consideration of safety or environmental impacts, and no notice before announcing potential hydro plans). Not to mention your lack of understanding of built development versus short-term construction space needs as displayed in your email, but we’ll get to that later. Or not. Those who read your email will see for themselves what I believe are gaps in your logic. So let’s get to the opening paragraph of your premature missive.

Mayor email sent to Premier April 2 made public April 5

On Saturday an email written by you was made public by the chair of the Township Heritage Committee (a private citizen). The email written by you on April 2 was sent to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, MPs Tony Clement and Lisa Raitt, and to Ontario Ombudsman André Marin. It informs them that the Township “welcomes the opportunity to contribute to green energy initiatives” and has “recently moved forward with an expansion of the Burgess 1 hydro station as well as approvals for a number of solar power installations.”

What expansion, the public might well ask?

The private operators of the plant (KRIS Renewable Energy) on Bala’s mill stream want to more than double the flow of water on the mill stream and through the plant from 4 cubic metres per second (cms) to 9.5 cms. According to four Councillors reached April 6 (a fifth would not comment on a Sunday), plus a review of minutes, a discussion of increased water flows has never occurred in Council chambers (although there is mention in a February report from the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) that a discussion might be requested in future).

In a letter from CAO Chris Wray on March 20, the Township asks some stakeholders of the Muskoka Water River Management Plan (MWRMP) to give their input on a take water request by April 15. The letter was apparently a bid to gather information before making recommendations to Council. As such, it’s fair to say Murphy’s email to the province on April 2 jumped the gun a bit. While the green minded might appreciate her zeal for wanting to show how the Township is living up to its strategic plan that states green energy is to be embraced, her reasons for sending that email are problematic.

Why? Because Murphy uses the potential expansion news announcement for one private developer while continuing to advance her personal pet project – trying to ensure another private developer fails in its green energy effort (she may not realize she may be hurting KRIS in the process as well as it appears to be trying to follow the correct amendment request method). Furthermore, the Mayor is essentially taking actions connected with the KRIS Renewable contract that she has criticized in the past about the Bala Falls small hydro project proposed by Swift River Energy Limited. They include:

1) Not enough public consultation. Those who live on the millstream and have buildings beside it say they’ve not been contacted about the potential plant expansion downstream from them. Surely they deserved a heads up before Murphy’s announcement to the Premier – and of all people, Murphy should know better as she (along with others including myself) criticized the provincial government for not giving Bala residents a similar heads up notice about plans to release the North Bala Falls for development.

2) Insufficient environmental assessment. I’m no expert — and neither is the Mayor, but diverting more than double the water past the dock in front of the Templeton house, and down the quiet millstream and out into Moon River may have some environmental impact. In years gone by, the owners before Algonquin Power broached the idea of blasting out some space under the little bridge connecting the town dock to the path up behind the LCBO to increase water flow. It didn’t fly. Of course, times have changed, and so has blasting technology, and KRIS should have the opportunity to present an environmentally safe plan if it feels it’s warranted – and if signatories to the MWRMP agree. As for that ‘other’ plant, environmental assessments have been conducted and approved by the Ministry of Environment.

3) Suggestions of influence.  One supporter of Save the Bala Falls told Muskoka News Watch that the ‘fix was in’ from the beginning for Swift River to be awarded the right to develop the North Bala Falls site, although it’s never been made clear how that alleged ‘fix’ was carried out. In the Burgess Generation plant case, KRIS Renewable includes investors who oppose the North Bala Falls small hydro project, and one of the principals donated to the Mayor’s campaign. Now, there’s NO problem with that (KRIS didn’t even exist at the time of the last election) but the optics are not the best for the Mayor. Especially as Murphy was involved in the oversight of the bid process: for example, she took part in the site inspection held for companies bidding on the project.

Fortunately, there’s an easy solution to the three ‘do as I say, not as I do’ examples given above. Murphy should get out of the waterpower business. Step aside, and let Township staff do their jobs, including giving a full report to Council to get a resolution supporting upsizing the water through the Burgess 1 Generating Station – if that’s what Council believes is a good move. According to Councillors who responded to messages over the weekend and this morning, the Mayor didn’t inform Council of her letter before sharing any expansion plans with others.

Councillor Don Furniss said he was unaware of the letter, adding, “Council has never had increased water flows for the Burgess Plant on the agenda. It was never discussed or approved by council.” When Councillor for Ward A (where the Burgess plant resides), Ruth Nishikawa, was asked, her response was she doesn’t conduct business on Sundays. A message was left for her asking her the question again this morning. Councillor Ron Brent stated “no one on Council, including the Mayor, should be writing to the Premier about Township of Muskoka Lakes without Council knowing about it.” Note: Councillor Kruckel is away on holidays, and understandably, was unable to respond.

At least, now all Councillors have had an opportunity to be let in on the plan made public Saturday — even if they would have preferred hearing about it first from the Mayor than from a reporter. Again.

A copy of Murphy’s email to the Premier, MPs and the Ombudsman is below.

From: Alice Murphy

Subject: Bala Falls Land Impacted is 124x Greater in Size than 2004 MNR Site Release Subject to EA Approval

Date: 2 April, 2014 6:38:43 PM EDT

To: premier@ontario.ca

Cc: Tony Clement, lisa.raitt@parl.gc.ca, Ontario Ombudsman <info@ombudsman.on.ca>

Dear Premier Wynne

The Township of Muskoka Lakes recognizes the intrinsic value of our watershed and welcomes the opportunity to contribute to renewable energy initiatives that are safe and respectful of our recreational and heritage based economy. In this regard we have recently moved forward with an expansion of the Burgess 1 hydro station as well as approvals for a number of solar power installations.

Over the past six years I have met with you on numerous occasions, outlining the community concerns relating to the proposed hydro station at Bala Falls. At each of these meetings, echoed many times through correspondence, I emphasized that the fundamental issue was that of scale–the proposed project was simply too large for the very small site released by the MNR, occupying virtually all of the land.

It is therefore deeply disturbing to read your recent correspondence to Mr. Ylanko, forwarded to my attention and attached, in which you stated that the proposed hydro station would “occupy a similar footprint as the former station”. Unfortunately this statement is materially incorrect.

To be clear, the proposed station would have a footprint over 16 times that of the former station, being only 256 square feet in size. Further, the developer is to be granted a 40 year lease for the exclusive use of all crown parkland at Bala Falls and threatens to re-purpose this parkland for heavy vehicle construction purposes if heritage-designated land, owned by the municipality, is not provided to the developer for clear cutting of all trees and acceptance of the blast waste rock. The release of this additional crown land was not raised in the original Environmental Assessment, and only mentioned in passing in the Addendum thereto, absent of any public process or mitigation efforts.

To recap, 50 years ago there was a hydro station that occupied 256 square feet on a very small lot, 0.07 hectares in size, successfully co-existing with navigational, recreational and tourism opportunities at this location. Now the proposed structure would occupy 4,448 square feet, a growth factor of 1653%. Further, with the active support of your government, there would be an additional withdrawal of .33 hectares of public land from public use, representing all of the crown waterfront land in Bala. This additional land totals 31,700 square feet, bringing the total footprint of the proposed project 124 times the size of the crown land released by the MNR in 2004 and subject to public input.

Just like the gas plants, an oversized hydro project in the heart of Bala would be the wrong structure in the wrong place. I would ask that any withdrawal of public lands from public use is through a public process, transparent to all, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Lands Act. I would further welcome the opportunity to discuss consideration of these concerns at your earliest opportunity.

Respectfully, Alice Murphy

References:

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 Feature picture at top left: View of Moon River and Mayor’s dock from north Bala dam

Muskoka Lakes budget passed, offers matching dollars for hospital

Valentine’s Day budget includes 2.75% increase to annual levy, held last year funding amount for Chamber, and offered compromise for hospital ask

Posted Mar. 2, 2014: The Muskoka Lakes Chamber of Commerce will be getting $18,000 to help fund its operations again this year again from the Township of Muskoka Lakes. It was the last item discussed by Township Council before it passed its Valentine’s Day budget.  Council also heard a delegation about the need for funding by the South Muskoka Memorial Hospital.

The Mayor thanked all Council for working to get the budget passed – the earliest budget confirmation date of Council’s term. The 2014 Budget includes a 2.75% increase to the annual levy. The majority of the increase will be achieved naturally through new growth and assessment phase-in, so the actual tax rate will only increase by 1.04% or $1.01 per $100,000 of assessed residential property value.

Before voting to approve the budget, Council heard from Chamber Manager Jane Templeton who requested funding be maintained to the Chamber – and Council agreed. Templeton had stepped in for Chamber President Walter Moon to ask the Council to hold its contribution, which she says is a fee for service, including marketing the Township, to the $18,000 the Council provided in 2012 and 2013.   Township provided $20,000 until 2013 when it cut Chamber funding to $18,000.  This tie Council wanted to trim that down to $15,000, a 25% reduction during the term of the current council.

Those cuts will have broad consequences for the services the Chamber provides to support business and economic development in Muskoka Lakes and a deeper cut will be felt by Township Council as well, said Templeton. Not only does the Chamber run annual and monthly events and information sessions, two seasonal Farmers Markets, the Bala Santa Claus Parade and produces visit information guides and more for the good of the entire township, Templeton explained that many services are also provided that directly support the Township. She pointed to the operation of a year round office and visitor information centre in Bala, a seasonal visitor information centre in Port Carling, free advertising via the Visitor Guide and by direct emails to the Chamber database for everything from Township job fairs to public meetings on Township issues.  The chamber provides representation of Township at Cottage Life Show, promotes businesses at Ontario Winter Games, participates in Fed Nor programs for the development of initiatives that increase tourism visitation, trade and commerce, and job creation.

Councillor Furniss responded,  “I can’t believe how much work the chamber does – it’s incredible”.  In a discussion later in the day, Council agreed unanimously to hold funding to the Chamber at the $18K instead of trimming it back to $15k.

As a result of maintaining current funding, Templeton reports that the Board of Directors as well as chamber members are very pleased that they are able to continue with the initiatives and mandates they are presently providing.

Council offers to match hospital donations

An amount of $9,000 was also put back in to the budget to potentially go to South Muskoka Memorial Hospital in Bracebridge. Council agreed to a funding option presented by Chief Administrative Officer Chris Wray in which members of the public would be free to donate to the hospital through the Township and the Township would match those donation dollars equally up to an amount of $9,000 – potentially raising a total $18,000 for the hospital, which needs help to pay for equipment, a cost not covered by the province.

Budget highlights:

  • Total levy of $8.4 million will allow the Township to conduct all of its operational duties, including summer and winter road maintenance, recreational programs, planning and development, as well as all administrative tasks.
  • $530,000 has been allocated for reconstruction of Beatrice Townline Bridge #2.
  • $25,000 has been earmarked to establish a reserve for future inclement weather impacts.
  • Staff – including firefighters who are considered part-time employees – will receive a 1.5% pay increase (a recommended pay scale change for firefighters wil undergo further scrutiny before a Council decision)

One item noted as a concern by Councillors Don Furniss and Allen Edwards during final budget discussions was the draw down of Township reserves. Since the present Council took office in 2010, reserves have been depleted by $715,202.

At the end of December, reserves were estimated to be $5,367,500. How does that compare to previous years? Total reserves (obligatory and discretionary) at year ended:

  • December 31, 2010: $6,082,702.
  • December 31, 2012: $5,801,015
  • December 31, 2013: estimated at $5,367,500