MUSKOKA LAKES - Swift River Energy Limited received the green light to go ahead with the North Bala Falls Small Hydro Project on Monday, Sept. 24.
Agatha Garcia-Wright, director for the Ministry of the Environment, said in a letter to Swift River Energy Limited that an environmental review or an individual environmental assessment are not necessary to proceed with the hydroelectric project.
“In accordance with the ESP (environmental screening process), my decision will become final 15 calendar days after this notice of my decision is received, unless a request is made by one of the original requesters within that time that the Minister of the Environment (Minister) review my decision,” she said.
The hydro project adjacent to the North Bala Dam has sparked controversy from the beginning with many local residents concerned about the impacts it will have esthetically and on the local tourism economy.
In an attempt to soothe things over with the community, Swift River decided to create a lower impact hydro facility 100 feet from the North Bala Dam, but was refused use of the municipal land required for the project.
Swift River changed its plan again, intending to go forward with the original proposed site adjacent to the North Bala Dam for the hydroelectric project.
On May 30 this year, Swift River filed an addendum to transfer the environmental assessment from the low-impact site to the site adjacent to the falls.
“This decision was made after giving careful consideration to the issues raised in the outstanding requests, project documentation, the provisions of the Environmental Screening Process (ESP), and other relevant matters required to be considered under subsection 16(4) of the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA),” Garcia-Wright said.
The Ministry of the Environment received 66 requests to require Swift River to prepare an environmental review or an individual environmental assessment, including one from the Township of Muskoka Lakes.
Karen McGhee, project manager for Swift River, said their focus will now shift from environmental assessment to preparing for construction.
“We’ve got permitting to do which will require some more detailed drawings,” she said.
Swift River hopes to complete that phase in time to begin construction in the spring.
McGhee is hoping there won’t be any appeals during the 15-day appeal period.
“As far as we’re concerned, we’re going to move forward with the drawings and tendering and permitting,” she said.
That includes completing the conditions set out in Garcia-Wright’s previous decision, which includes addressing the esthetics of the building. McGhee said many of the conditions were met in the addendum.
Garcia-Wright said the decision was made with the understanding that Swift River will fulfil those commitments and recognizes the importance and value of the environmental assessment act.