Swift River tries to build plant
November 21, 2012
To view a timeline of events regarding the Bala Falls hydroelectric project, go to the Nov. 21, 2012 Bracebridge Examiner or Gravenhurst Banner, page 10 & 11 in the print editions.
BALA - Swift River continues to work toward a hydroelectric plant despite public objections and roadblocks at every step.
Throughout the past five years, Swift River has hosted two public meetings and delegated to both the District of Muskoka and Muskoka Lakes councils numerous times. They have put ads in the paper, answered questions on their website and written letters to the editor.
Karen McGhee, project manager for Swift River, said people still have misconceptions about the project. “They’re not talking about the same project,” she said.
McGhee addressed concerns of the project being entirely different than the original plan by saying, “As these processes go, you get along, you get more information, you can better refine things. You start with a concept and then you refine it as you get more information, and that’s exactly what’s happened here. … Things change, that’s the process.”
To date, Swift River has spent “well over $2 million” on the project, McGhee said.
“Generally when you’ve put that much down it’s because you’ve run into environmental issues that really need to be looked at,” she said. “Here, this project doesn’t have a lot of environmental issues. The issues have been purely politically and PR-related more than anything, and financing-related, I mean when you have that kind of money, you’re paying for delays,” she said.
Government policy changes delayed the project by two years at the very beginning and it has faced delays ever since.
Swift River initially applied for the project in 2004, received the project in 2006, and held the first and only two official public meetings in August and September of 2007. At that time, they also began the environmental assessment required by the provincial government before the project could begin construction.
A year later, Swift River drafted plans for a dam 100 feet away from the existing North Bala Falls dam, which included an underground plant, park and viewing platform.
McGhee said switching the project to a different location (Option 2) in 2008 delayed the environmental screening process by at least a year.
Once the environmental assessment was completed, the company switched their plans back to a version of the original plan because they couldn’t come to an agreement with the township. Trying to avoid a second environmental assessment, Swift River filed an addendum including the changes to their original plans. The addendum was appealed by the public to the Ministry of Environment and now to the minister himself.
McGhee said they’re hoping to begin construction in late spring. She said Swift River will probably address the public again around that time, once the cottagers return.
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