BALA — In an effort to answer questions regarding the appearance of the proposed hydroelectric generating station at the North Bala Falls, Swift River Energy Ltd. has released new images depicting the Crown land and district land options.
Following last month’s requests from both the District of Muskoka and the Township of Muskoka Lakes councils for more information, Swift River has generated visuals using photographs of the area to depict the differences in the two proposed options, including the size of the buildings and the potential for landscaping.
Option 1 is an above-ground structure abutting the North Bala Falls and built entirely on Crown land. Option 2, which makes use of district and Crown land, is approximately 100 feet away from the falls, retaining public access to the falls, and is almost half the height, allowing the structure to be landscaped over to include two levels of public lookouts.
Swift River is anxious to move forward with the project in order to meet constraints imposed by the Ontario Power Authority to reach commercial in-service. To begin the next step, the detailed design stage, an option must be chosen.
“If the municipal lease is approved for the Option 2 plan, Swift River is planning to start construction this October,” said Swift River’s project manager Karen McGhee, at last month’s Township of Muskoka Lakes council meeting. “If no agreement is made for the lease this month (January), Swift River will be issuing an addendum to the environmental screening outlining the Option 1 plan on the Crown land.”
The deadline for the district lease agreement has been extended as Swift River Energy awaits the Ministry of the Environment’s director’s decision on the elevation of the environmental screening. However, once that decision is released, assuming it is favourable for Swift River, they will proceed with Option 1 if the district has not provided the lease agreement allowing Option 2 to go ahead.
“Our message to the community is that the public needs to let their government representatives know which option they feel is best suited for the site and for Bala in general, for the long term,” said McGhee.
The concern is that the township will reject both options in the hopes of stopping the project in its entirety. However, McGhee maintains the township does not have the authority to do so and may lose the chance to choose their preferred option if they continue to delay.
McGhee said industry representatives have described Option 2 as a “unique and innovative concept that integrates green energy tourism and heritage into one project.” It is “by far superior,” something the “community can be proud of” and a “win-win-win” for the township, the public and Swift River.
Due to the available space, Option 1, built solely on Crown land, will be almost twice the height (30 feet compared to 16.6 feet) and 20 per cent wider than Option 2 (40 feet compared to 33 feet), according to Swift River, resulting in a more intrusive facility, with less public access to the falls and fewer landscaping choices.
McGhee is back before both district and Township of Muskoka Lakes council next week in the hopes of finalizing arrangements for the district lease agreement and to answer any further questions from the councils.
“We remain hopeful that we’ll get a decision from the district soon so we can move ahead with the preferred district option,” she said. “But we’re ready to go with the paperwork and reports needed to finalize approvals to develop the original Crown land site right next to the falls as our backup plan.”
Final details on the landscaping and architectural features of the visible portion of the building in either option will be worked out in cooperation with a local landscape advisory committee made up of area residents, businesses and municipal officials.
Anyone interested in being involved with the advisory committee should contact McGhee through Swift River Energy’s website at balafalls.ca.