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First Nations not consulted about Bala Falls hydro-electric dam

Bala Falls

Bala Falls. Photo by John Wright – North45 Communications

Peggy Peterson has been camping for the past 89 days at Bala Falls on the site Swift River Energy Ltd. has proposed to build a hydro-electric project. The 4.5 megawatt project would be located where Lake Muskoka flows into Moon River, about two hours north of Toronto. It would be situated near a public park where people can come to picnic and watch the falls.

Her action is supported by the Williams Treaties First Nations, which consists of the Georgina Island First Nation, the Beausoleil First Nation, the Rama First Nation, the Mississaugas’ of Alderville First Nation, the Curve Lake First Nation, the Hiawatha First Nation and the Scugog Island First Nation. The Gravenhurst Banner has reported, “The Wahta Mohawks [say] the property is a historic portage and that they had not been properly consulted by the various levels of government about the hydro project.”

This past summer, the Globe and Mail also reported, “The Bala Falls hydroelectric project, awarded to Swift River Energy in 2005, has encountered strong resistance in the community of Bala. …The Moon River Property Owners’ Association [is] battling the water power project. Bala is peppered with signs that say ‘Stop the hydro plant’.”

On October 20, a group of people gathered on the site to celebrate that the planned start construction date of the hydro-electric plant had passed. The Bracebridge Examiner notes, “The company had targeted the day after the annual cranberry festival as the possible start date for preliminary work on the portage. But it was revealed during a Muskoka Lakes council meeting on [October 17] that conditions required to receive District of Muskoka entrance permits for the controversial project may not have been met by Swift River Energy Ltd. It was stated at the same meeting that the company has not actually been given the lease to the property yet from the [Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources] for the Crown land.”

And this week the Gravenhurst Banner reports, “Muskoka Lakes Council is throwing their support behind the Wahta Mohawks in a letter to the province. They will be sending the letter to seek clarification on what public consultation has taken place with the First Nation in regards to the current plans for the Bala Falls hydroelectric project.”

That article notes, “Councilor Brad Burgess says that in the public information all of the reported and printed copies of the duty to consult with the six various nations show that none of the duty to consult dates are after December 17, 2010. This means that none of the consultation pertains to the current plant that will obstruct the portage. ‘I think his point is very well taken that when there was a change in plans in 2012 that those people, the six nations that were originally surveyed and consulted with … were all in relation to a different project at a different location’, he said.”

And Councilor Phil Harding says, “The impact is on our environment. It is on our rocks trees and water. There are taxpayers that are asking us to help out in this regard and I do think this is our duty as elected officials, as local council, to get involved and to help out where appropriate.”

For regular updates on this situation, please see the ‘Save the Bala Falls’ Facebook page here.

Further reading
Proposed dam may limit the ‘right to portage’ on Crown land (July 2014 blog)