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Frank Belerique, Vice President of Swift River Energy Limited (SREL), was invited to present the status of the Bala Falls Hydro Project to Council. Mr. Belerique said that they wished to cover four topics in their presentation - the status of the project, public safety, the “Bala Boulder” and rehabilitation plans for the park.
Status of the project: Mr. Belerique began by informing Council that SREL began testing and commissioning the hydro plant on January 8th, 2020 and will be slowly “ramping it up” until it is working at 100%. Once that is achieved, the hydro plant will be put into operation. Plant staff, who SREL hired locally, have been undergoing training with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF). Currently both the north and south dams are operated by the MNRF, but their operation will be transferred to SREL once staff are fully prepared. SREL is now an official partner on the Muskoka River Watershed Management Plan (MRWMP). Mr. Belerique reviewed the operation of the powerhouse for Council.
Public safety: Mr. Belerique explained to Council that SREL had hired two consultants to write the safety plan for SREL which included consideration of the tailrace, powerhouse intake, the safety booms and the railway bridge. A safety boom at the tailrace of the powerhouse will be installed and held in place by concrete anchors and chains in the water. SREL will be replacing the MNRF’s upstream safety boom with one that is shaped for self rescue. This safety boom will be equipped with handles so an individual could pull themselves along the boom, as well as a “chain link fence” below to water to prevent an individual from being pushed under the boom and allow for someone to “kick off” of it if required. Safety buoys have also been installed upstream of the powerhouse. SREL met with CP Rail to encourage them to improve on the “No Trespassing” on the railway bridge and as a result better signage and fencing will be installed. CPR has also given permission to the OPP to issue warnings to individuals found on the bridge and issue tickets if required. Signage has been installed around the powerhouse and dam. High quality cameras, which will be monitored in the control room will be installed looking downstream, at the intake and a third area which was indicated on the screen but not verbally acknowledged.
“Bala Boulder”: Nhung Nguyen, Vice President of Development for SREL, explained to Council that when SREL began to excavate in 2017, they revealed a large section of bedrock with engravings on it dating from 1888. It was decided that this piece of bedrock held historical significance to Bala and should be extracted and preserved. The 10-ton artifact has been stored at Muskoka Rock in Gravenhurst and will be placed at the entrance to the park adjacent to the powerhouse.
Park rehabilitation: Ms. Nguyen reminded Council that SREL had been granted permission by previous Township Council to use the lands to the south of the powerhouse during construction with the understanding that once the project was complete the lands would be rehabilitated into a park. SREL plans to begin the rehabilitation after the Victoria Day Long Weekend in May 2020. The Township agreed to the rehabilitation plans many years prior.
Councillors asked questions and voiced concerns regarding the project including, to which Mr. Belerique provided replies:
Answer: No, it will not. SREL only produces power from the water flowing through the system. It is a “run-of-river” facility, not a store and release facility.
Answer: The power lines are buried underground to cross Muskoka Road 169 and go up an existing pole to deliver power to Ontario Hydro.
Answer: The velocity of the water decreases as it gets closer to shore.
Answer: As this is a navigable waterbody, SREL had to follow Transport Canada’s recommendations.
Answer: The power plant is a “run-of-river” facility and not producing more currents than there are now.
Answer: SREL leased the lands from the MNRF and it will be restored to pre-construction condition.
Answer: A committee was established and passed by the previous Council to review the “park” rehabilitation plan and a Heritage Conservation Easement was established.
Following this discussion former Muskoka Ratepayers Director Mike Webb, now a member of the public, took the opportunity to address Council commenting on a very disparaging remark from Councillor Zavitz regarding SREL’s lack of transparency and deserving an “F minus” for dealing with the people of Bala. Mr. Webb observed that no one from this, or previous councils had volunteered to participate on public advisory committees struck by SREL. He, along with many other of the public, accepted SREL’s offer to provide input on “scenic waterflow” along with input on park and powerhouse design. Quarterly updates on the project had also been mailed to all local residents.
This item was on the agenda for information and no resolution was read.
SREL’s power point presentation on the status of the project and public safety can be seen here - SREL Presentation
Ed Note: The MRA found this presentation to be very helpful and informative, from both the presenter’s perspective and questions from Councillors. The entire presentation and Council discussion can be found on the Township webcast of the Council meeting beginning at 33 minutes for approximately one hour.
Director of Public Works, Ken Becking, explained to Council that the Public Works Department was making a pre-budget request for funds to purchase a used 2017 Freightliner Elgin Eagle Sweeper and a used John Deere 770 GP Grader. Mr. Becking acknowledged that these requests are usually made during budget deliberations. Unfortunately, the Township’s current equipment is no longer functioning properly and are costing the Township funds to repair them. According to Mr. Becking both pieces of equipment will be required in early spring 2020 for routine maintenance that the public will be expecting. Mr. Becking informed Council that funds were available in the working capital reserves to cover the cost of both purchases.
Resolutions were read and Council voted to purchase both pieces of equipment.
During District Updates at the Council meeting a concern was raised by Mayor Harding that Councillor Jaglowitz had used “Reply All” to an email to voice an opinion on the District of Muskoka’s budget. It has been explained to Councillors several times over the past year that this is not permitted as it is considered a “meeting without public notice” and viewed as “advancing business of the corporation outside of the Council Chambers”.
After a full year as Councillors they should know that this is not permitted.
ED Note: The Muskoka Ratepayers certainly hope this does not occur again.
Dr. Adam MacLennan, a family physician from Gravenhurst spoke to Committee regarding an electronic patient waiting list that he is developing. According to Dr. MacLennan there is currently a “paper waiting list” in Gravenhurst. Bracebridge physicians do not have a formal waiting list and Huntsville has a “one list” system. The online waiting list would require individuals to provide the following information:
Every six months the individual waiting for a primary care provider would receive an email asking if they wished to remain on the list. If they so wished, they would remain in chronological order.
Currently, the number of “unattached” patients in Muskoka is unknown. By tracking patients by their postal codes, it would indicate where a primary care provider, either a physician or nurse practitioner, is needed.
When the project began it was just to be used in Dr. MacLennan’s office. It was determined that it would be better if the project was owned by the community as there could be a conflict if it was owned by physicians. Dr. MacLennan explained that the development costs of the project were $7,800.00 plus HST with annual web hosting fees of $300.00 to $350.00 plus HST. The Town of Gravenhurst has committed $4,000.00 to the project and Dr. MacLennan asked Committee members to invest $2,000.00.
In reply to questions posed by Committee members Dr. MacLennan explained that physicians who are attached to a local hospital require approximately 700 patients for a practice to be viable, while those who are not attached require 1600 patients. In general Committee members were supportive of the proposal but had concerns that if this request was a line item in the 2020 Township budget it would demonstrate that the Township was in the business of health care. It was suggested that Dr. MacLennan speak to Corey Moore the Township’s Communications & Economic Development Specialist.
This item was for information purposes and no resolution was read.
Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Hammond reported to Committee that Fire Chief Ryan Murrell has been appointed to the role of Alternate Fire Coordinator among the Fire Chiefs in the District of Muskoka. Mayor Harding congratulated Chief Murrell saying this was a “nod to Chief Murrell” who in the short time Chief Murrell has been with the Township he “clearly left an impression on his peers”.
Ed Note: The Muskoka Ratepayers offer our congratulations to Chief Murrell.
Neil Donald, Chief Building Inspector for the Township of Muskoka Lakes, presented to Committee the development services activity report for 2019 as required by the Building Code Act. The report informed Committee that in 2019:
This item was for information purposes and no resolution was read.
District Treasurer Commissioner Julie Stevens presented to Committees this week the 2020 draft tax supported operating budget and 2020 draft capital budget and forecast. Commissioners from each department then presented their portions of the budgets to the Engineering and Public Works, Finance and Corporate Services, Health Services and Community and Planning Service Committees.
At the time of the meetings the District budget increase for 2020 is to be 2.79%, which equates to an increase of $10.45 for every $300,000.00 of assessed property value. Resolutions, with a couple of amendments, were read at each committee that the budgets should be “endorsed and forwarded to the Committee of the Whole for further consideration” at the February 7th, 2020 scheduled meeting.
Mark your calendars.... Port Carling Winterfest is taking place Friday, February 7th to Sunday, February 9th, 2020. A list of events can be found here - Winterfest