The small hydro project at the North Bala Dam is up for discussion again.
Swift River Energy Limited announced today it is filing for an addendum to switch the site of the Bala Falls dam back to Crown land.
The day before the announcement, Swift River received a letter from Ontario’s minister of the environment denying an individual environmental assessment on the Bala Falls hydroelectric project.
Jim Bradley’s letter was in response to 75 requests for further assessment on the project. Requests had previously been turned down by the director of environmental assessment and approvals branch in March of this year. Bradley said he upholds that decision.
“This decision was made after careful consideration to the issues raised in the requests, project documentation, the provisions of the environmental screening process, and other relevant matters required to be considered under subsection 16(4) of the Environmental Assessment Act,” he wrote.
He said his decision is final.
The original environmental assessment was completed for the proposed dam that was located 100 feet away from Bala’s North Falls.
The addendum means there will be an amendment outlining the differences in environmental impact so Swift River can move the location of the dam to Crown land adjacent to the falls without doing another environmental assessment.
In a press release on May 25 Karen McGhee, project manager at Swift River Energy, said the company had to wait on the minister’s decision before it could pursue its plan to change the location.
“Swift River is pleased with the minister’s decision and is eager to move the project forward,” the release said.
The dam in Bala is one of the first projects under Ontario’s Crown land release program for renewable energy.
Swift River had originally planned to use provincial land for the dam, but due to public and municipal council requests, it later decided to use provincial and district land so the dam would be 100 feet away from Bala’s North Falls.
Since then, the land that was owned by the District of Muskoka has been turned over to Muskoka Lakes Township and a new council has been elected.
The dam has been a controversial topic from the beginning, causing concern over water flow, environmental impact, economic impact, and noise. The Ministry of Environment expressed its satisfaction with how Swift Current Energy had addressed these concerns in the March decision to deny further assessment.
Muskoka Lakes Mayor Alice Murphy, previously known for protesting the Bala Falls hydroelectric project, said on Monday she wasn’t surprised that the request to the minister was turned down.
“It’s a process that we’re going through. The minister has literally never agreed to a project to an individual elevation,” she said.
Murphy said the last time she recalls an individual elevation was granted was for Highway 407.
“Everyone in Ontario is given the belief that we have this ability to get an individual assessment. Well it’s a process and that process is not applied,” she said.
Now she said all they can do is wait.
“We need to go through, we have to see what the proponent is going to put forward, the reality though is, anything that’s put forth on a different site is a different project. So what’s reviewed on the last screening report was specific to an option that the proponent has now determined they are not going to pursue.”
Murphy was in meetings and unavailable for comment on the addendum. Previously she said they’ve had no direct contact with the proponent on the plan and she hopes they will include the municipality in their plans.
The addendum is available for a 30-day public review at the Township of Muskoka Lakes, Muskoka Lakes Chamber of Commerce and the Muskoka Lakes Library or online at www.balafalls.ca.
Environmental concerns can be sent in to Swift River Energy until 5 p.m. on June 29.