Bala Falls Summer 2015

Bala Falls Small Hydro Plant Update – Summer 2015

After 10 months your current Council and Township of Muskoka Lakes (TML) Staff are still devoting an inordinate amount of time and taxpayer dollars to this small hydro project. My only interest is to move it forward to completion, using an expeditious democratic process. Your Council and the Town of Bala needs closure on this project to restore civility in our Township.

At every opportunity, I remind people that this small controversial hydro project, is now in its 10th year. It is controlled by the Province of Ontario under the Green Energy Act and is being constructed on property owned by the crown. The TML has very little control over this project. My commitment to the citizens of our Township, during last years’ election campaign, was that I would work through Council and with SREL to negotiate the best deal possible for the people of Bala and our Township. That commitment was made on the premise that this small hydro plant would be built. I was not prepared to continue with the same failed methods and huge expenditures of taxpayer dollars as the last Council did, to stop the project, while it continued to move forward and around the obstructions placed in its path.
The production of electricity from renewable sources remains a key objective for the current Liberal Government, with hydro at the apex of preferred future power sources. Minister Mauro of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, as recently as Aug 17th, reconfirmed to me that the province is still strongly committed to proceed with the Bala Falls Small Hydro Plant.

At the May 15th TML Council Meeting, Council passed a resolution to commence negotiations with Swift River Energy Ltd. (SREL) for the short term lease of 3 TML owned properties near the falls for $125,000 during the construction of the power plant. The successful negotiation of this agreement could provide monies for infrastructure improvements in Bala and will allow SREL to use Township lands rather than negatively impacting the long term appearance and depriving the public from using Margaret Burgess Park during construction. At this time these negotiations are ongoing, but hopefully will conclude in a mutually acceptable lease agreement.

Township Council also approved a resolution in April, for the widening of the shoulder on the west side of Hwy 169, between the north and south falls in Bala. The purpose of the road widening is to minimize traffic tie ups and lane restrictions on Hwy 169 during construction of the hydro plant. This permanently widened roadway will also have longer term benefits by adding parking and a viewing platform for the Moon River Reach. Since Hwy # 169 is a District Road, the resolution was forwarded to the District, for the Public Works Committees consideration of the TML request. Public Works deferred the request for one meeting, but ultimately passed the resolution in June. District Council passed the road widening resolution in July. TML District Councillors Nishikawa and Harding, filed a “Notice For Reconsideration” with the District Clerk to delay the implementation of the resolution, allegedly because the Wahta Mohawk had new information they wanted to present. At the District Council Meeting on August 24th Chief Phillip Franks had the Clerk distribute his power point presentation in advance of the Council Meeting to all District Councillors. When the Notice to Reconsider the road widening resolution was presented to Council for the vote, it was defeated. So now the road widening can proceed after Cranberry Festival, when the applicable insurance and securities are received.

I have to speak up on recent articles that call into question my ethics and use innuendos of my so called “ hidden agendas” concerning this small hydro project.
I want to be perfectly clear that I have absolutely no direct or indirect pecuniary interest in this project or with SREL or with any other electrical utility. I certainly talk to the proponents of this project, as well as those who are opposed to it. I view it as part of the TML’s and my due diligence, to be as well informed as possible on any activities and plans related to this controversial development. The province is committed to make this project a reality. Hence my sole objective remains to obtain the best realistic long term solution for the people of Bala.

Don Furniss