MNR Site No: 4LA9
Location: High Falls, Grassy River
Contract: Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) – 4 MW Installed Capacity
Proponent: Woods Power Generation, Englehart, ON
Status: This project is dormant for the time being.
A public forum was held on Wednesday at the Timmins Museum: National Exhibition Centre by the Friends of High Falls to give an update on the status of the scenic area. Woods Power has had a license to build a dam on the site since 2006, but plans seem to have fallen through for the time being. Among those attending the meeting Wednesday were, from left, Tom Dolanjski, acting chairman for Friends of High Falls Larry Robichaud, Dan Kirouac, and Shannon McCartney.
TIMMINS – Not even a 45-minute drive out of town, High Falls is one of the hidden natural gems of Timmins.
In November 2006, the serene beauty a select few local residents enjoyed was threatened when the High Falls site was licensed to Woods Power for the purpose of erecting a generating dam along the Grassy River just upstream.
A group called the Friends of High Falls began an uphill battle to save the area in 2008, through public meetings, government consultation and social media activity.
Today, more than five years after it all began, the Friends of High Falls seem to have gotten their wish – for now.
“We’re giving an update as to what the status of the area is,” said Larry Robichaud, acting chairman of the group, which organized a public forum at the Timmins Museum: National Exhibition Centre on Wednesday night.
“The man in charge (of the development), for whatever reason – it’s not up to me to judge his situation – he’s been inactive and from what we’ve heard from both ministries (Environment and Natural Resources), the plan for the dam is almost dead.”
However, there’s still a small catch.
“You can’t forget the fact that the file is still open and the proponent still holds the rights to develop,” said Robichaud.
Robichaud took over the chairmanship for Friends of High Falls when founder Grant Tunnicliffe suddenly passed away in 2010.
“But the development of the dam at High Falls is stopped for the time being,” he said. “That’s a good thing for us because that’s what we want to preserve.”
Since February, the developer has failed to respond to Robichaud’s repeated attempts to establish contact. For the Friends of High Falls, no news is good news.
But now that the future of the High Falls ecosystem looks safe, Robichaud said the real work is just beginning.
“Our goal now is to encourage, facilitate and support,” he said.
The group has already received support from the Friends of Temagami to develop and promote youth paddle adventures on the picturesque waterway.
Other goals stated by the group include establishing High Falls as a conservation area, developing a scenic hiking trail, respecting and preserving known historical sites, and reviving the Atlantic/Arctic Watershed canoe route. They will continue contacting youth groups and organizations to perform excursions, maybe even following the routes of the original settlers of the Timmins region, said Robichaud.
Century-old portage trails have been uncovered around High Falls through extensive exploration and research. Robichaud said it wasn’t easy, but he was finally able to secure an MNR permit (KL-12-22) to revive the Little Hawk Portage site.
“People love it for many reasons,” said Robichaud. “You’re talking about a series of lakes over a huge territory. If you look at a map, you’re talking about countless camping spots, hiking, fishing and hunting areas, all kinds of recreational opportunities. Now, we’re also trying to rehabilitate the portage trails that have been around for centuries.”
Avid outdoorsmen Shannon McCartney and Dan Kirouac commented on why they were so passionate about the issue.
“It’s the only place that’s really close to town where it’s easy for novice and beginner paddlers to do,” explained Kirouac. He has been a member of and shot videos for groups such as Friends of High Falls and Friends of Ivanhoe Lake.
“They can hike from the bottom of High Falls, and they come to the top and they have something really spectacular to look at. Then they can jump in the water with a canoe or kayak and just go down the river for the rest of the afternoon, and then you’re back in town almost.”
McCartney said it could take anywhere from three to six hours to hike to the falls and paddle back. She said it gives families the chance to enjoy a stunning natural adventure during the day and get back to the comfort of home for the night.
“We go hiking, fishing, canoeing, all that stuff,” said McCartney. “It’s a really nice trip from the bottom of the falls to the top. Hopefully more people become aware of it. It’s definitely not worth putting a dam there for the amount of power they’d get out of it.”
Timmins resident Tom Dolanjski arrived at the meeting with stunning pictures of High Falls taken just two hours prior.
“We’re not hiding it. We want people to get out there,” said Dolanjski. “We’re hoping, with people like at the Mattagami River Conservation Authority, and with public support, to be able to protect it for the future. The developer isn’t doing anything right now, but he still holds the licence. He could sell it to somebody else too.
“We have to make people aware of the beauty of the area and get out there and enjoy it in a responsible matter. Once people really appreciate it, it’s going to be really hard for somebody to develop something there.”