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
Cc: Tony Clement, email@example.com, Ontario Ombudsman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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
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Feature picture at top left: View of Moon River and Mayor’s dock from north Bala dam