The vast majority of the community continues to oppose a proposed hydro-electric generating station at the Bala falls (Bala is 25 km north-west of Gravenhurst), which is where Lake Muskoka flows into the Moon River, and eventually flows to Georgian Bay and Lake Huron.
The proposed generating station would be within 60 meters of residences and their docks, and the treacherously-turbulent water exiting the tailrace would be just a few feet from the base of the Bala north falls. As you can see in the photograph (the proposed station would be where the rocks are in the background), this is an extremely popular in-water recreational area, where anybody can come and visit and park for free, and get in the water for free. Such tourism drives the area’s economy, but the proposed generating station would take 94% of the water from the falls, and make the shoreline too dangerous to access. Nobody will come to see dry rocks where the falls used to be.
The tailrace flow would be directed towards the only public docks on the Moon River. To make this all the more dangerous, the proposed station would be automatically and remotely-started, at about noon on summer days, just when people would think it was safe. People can judge the dangers of the natural flows over a falls, but they could not judge or know when a generating station, with no local operator, and no warnings given, would start operation. As part of restoring Township lands planned to be used to facilitate this proposed construction, the proponent would build a portage directly adjacent to their dangerous tailrace – this makes no sense. The flow from a hydroelectric generating station one-tenth the size of what’s proposed, drowned a 16-year-old boy a few years ago, about 40 km from Bala. So the danger is real.
It would be unprecedented to build a hydro-electric generating station in the middle of an extremely popular in-water recreational area, yet despite pursuing this for over 11 years, the proponent has not provided any detail of how they could operate this proposed station safely. In fact, during all this time, the proponent has held only two public meetings.
During the proposed construction, there would also be too high a probability of flooding Lake Muskoka. The plan to avoid this is unworkable and was never described during the proponent’s environmental assessment process.
The proponent does not have the final approval needed from the Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry (MNRF) to actually build the proposed project, yet a few months ago, perhaps to give a false impression of progress, or to spite the community, the proponent clear-cut all the trees on the proposed construction site (as shown in the photograph below) and installed chain-link fencing around it. What a needless waste – that just further angers and drives the community to expose how poorly-planned all this is.
Last year the MNRF gave the proponent control of a Crown land property known as Margaret Burgess Park, in which for the past five years the Moon River Property Owners Association has held a Canada Day celebration, providing free cake and ice cream to all that wish to attend, and who then can watch the free fireworks across the river. But last summer, the proponent sent a letter stating they would instruct the OPP to arrest anyone attending this music and family-oriented event, which then had to be cancelled (after all the cake and ice cream had been purchased by the Association).
For years we have been asking the MNRF, and the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, how this proposed project could be safe, and why the proponent has been allowed to make changes to their plans without an addendum to their environmental report. However, the vague and evasive replies never answer the questions, so we keep asking.
Our last Freedom of Information document request; to only the MNRF, for just a five-month period, for just this proposed project had over 14,000 pages of documents returned. So the MNRF is certainly spending internal resources trying to push this wreck of a proposed project forward, but they’re not answering the important questions of public safety. We don’t want Bala to be the drowning capital of Muskoka.
Article submitted by Mitchell Shnier, Save the Bala Falls.
Learn more at SaveTheBalaFalls.com. You can also watch an excellent film about the fight to save Bala Falls – by a well known film-maker – here.