The long-anticipated municipal report focused on the proposed electric pumped storage facility on the Meaford Tank Range was released on Friday, May 15, and a special meeting of council has been scheduled for June 1, giving members of council an opportunity to discuss the report.
The report had been expected to be presented to council in April, however it was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and concerns that the public would not be able to attend council for the release of the report due to stay-at-home and social distancing measures implemented by the Province.
Proponent TC Energy has been granted permission to undertake a feasibility study, and the temporary access agreement provides TC Energy with one year of access in order to complete its studies. The DND is conducting its own study, which will determine if the proposed facility could co-exist with activities at the 4th Canadian Division Training Centre.
According to TC Energy, the proposed hydroelectric pumped storage facility would “consume inexpensive off-peak power at night to pump water from Georgian Bay into a storage reservoir located at the top of the Niagara Escarpment on 4th CDTC property. The reservoir would be emptied back into Georgian Bay during peak usage periods, driving hydraulic turbines to generate electricity.”
The proposal has been cause for concern for many Meaford residents, and information sessions held at the community centre in January drew hundreds. The proposal also spurred the formation of activist group 'Save Georgian Bay', whose members have worked tirelessly over the past several months to raise awareness about the proposal, which they fear will result in environmental and ecological issues and would have a negative impact on the community.
In his report to council, Meaford CAO Rob Armstrong noted Meaford's 'environment first' philosophy.
“The Municipality has a number of significant environmental and topographical features that contribute to the ‘sense of place’ felt by many of the Municipality’s residents. These features include the Georgian Bay shoreline, the Niagara Escarpment, the Meaford Harbour, the Big Head River and its tributaries, the Bruce and Georgian trails and the large forest tracts, valleylands, smaller woodlots and wetland areas that support diverse wildlife and plant communities,” Armstrong noted in the report. “The protection of these attributes is a key underlying principle in this Official Plan and for this reason, this Official Plan establishes an ‘environment-first’ philosophy in the Municipality. This means that protecting significant natural heritage features and functions shall take precedence over development.”
The CAO's report identified many potential issues with the proposed facility from environmental to the impact on the community.
“It is imperative that the proposed Pumped Storage Facility not result in any impacts on water quality including turbidity issues affecting the pristine waters of Georgian Bay. There is the potential that the speed to which the water returns to the bay could result in high levels of turbidity,” the report notes. “The municipal intake for the Meaford Water System is located approximately 6.6 km south of the proposed outfall and this intake must not be impacted in anyway. For baseline monitoring purposes, the Municipality does regular monitoring of water quality and turbidity. Further, a large number of residents along the Nottawasaga Bay shoreline north of Centreville Road to the 4th CDTC receive their water from shore wells. Unlike a Municipal Water Plant, which has advanced filtration, many homes only have basic UV filtration systems, which can be severely impacted by poor water quality and high turbidity.”
Many who oppose the proposed pumped storage facility have expressed concern for the health and safety of fish and other aquatic life that is found in the bay. The CAO's report makes clear that Meaford's position should be that of zero impact on the fish population.
“The shoreline also provides habitat for fish and other wildlife species. In keeping with the ‘environment first’ approach, this Plan encourages the maintenance of vegetative buffers, migratory bird stopovers/roosts/nesting grounds and fish spawning areas along the shoreline,” Armstrong wrote in the report. “There has been significant concern expressed by the public with regard to the potential impact on fisheries. Although the commercial fishing industry has basically disappeared in the area, recreational fishing plays a vital role in the regional economy from a tourism perspective. As a result, any adverse impacts on fisheries is a concern of the Municipality. It is staff’s position that, based on the Official Plan provisions, the fisheries requirement for this project should be based on the standard of no impact as is applied on all municipal projects.”
Another potential issue identified in the report is one that Meaford and all shoreline communities have been facing for several months – shoreline erosion. The report expresses concern that the project could make matters worse.
“The Municipality and our shoreline residents are experiencing significant impacts of shoreline erosion resulting from high water. With the potential construction of breakwalls and additional infrastructure, staff are concerned with the potential impacts of this proposed development on the shoreline of Nottawasaga Bay. In this regard, the Municipality requires a report from a Coastal Engineer that demonstrates that there will be no adverse impacts resulting from this development affecting the shoreline in Meaford,” the report said.
Another concern frequently expressed by residents is that of noise and light coming from the facility once it is constructed and operational. This concern is addressed in the report, and council is advised that, “a substantial buffer be provided from adjacent development. One of the concepts had shown a setback of approximately 800 – 1000 metres.”
Other concerns addressed in the report include air quality, species at risk, and the visual impact of the facility, particularly from the water. The report notes that while the land in question is part of the Niagara Escarpment land area, it is treated differently.
“The lands are not included with the Niagara Escarpment Plan, likely for the same reasons that the Official Plan for the Municipality does not apply to Federal Lands. Background mapping for the initial Niagara Escarpment Plan from the 1970s does however indicate that the waterline(s) that run from the Bay to the reservoir would traverse the escarpment,” the report noted. “Further, the proposed reservoir would be located on top of the escarpment. We note that these locations became the Escarpment Natural designation which garnered the highest level of protection under the Niagara Escarpment Plan.”
The report also notes that the Escarpment Natural Designation does permit infrastructure development for the type of use proposed by TC Energy, however there is still concern expressed about the visual impact of the facility once built.
“Of particular concern with the proposed development is the visual impact. In this regard, the Municipality requests that Visual Impact Assessment be undertaken in accordance with the NEC Visual Assessment Guidelines. The Municipality would undertake a peer review of this assessment as outlined earlier in this report,” the report advised.
Environmental issues aside, the report also suggests that the influx of some 800 workers for construction of the facility could not be supported by the municipality currently.
“It is staff’s opinion that the current state of housing within the Municipality and the larger region will not support an influx of workers into the area. Although it is recognized that a certain number will consist of workers who already live in the area there will still be an interim need for housing in the vicinity of the development,” the report noted. “There are a number of options that could be considered to address this need during the construction phase, however staff recommend an option, wherein housing would be constructed in the urban area of Meaford on services. Following the use as housing for construction works, it could become an affordable housing project owned and operated by the County of Grey. There is an identified need for this housing in our community and the region. This would similar to some Olympic athlete villages wherein the developments are utilized for affordable housing projects post-Olympic use.”
In compiling the report, which is 39 pages in length including supporting documents, Armstrong consulted with representatives of Save Georgian Bay in an effort to ensure that the concerns of the public would be highlighted int he report.
“Municipal Staff met with representatives from Save Georgian Bay to discuss a number of concerns that have been raised by this group. Staff recognize that some members of this group are very knowledgeable with regard to certain elements of this project and appreciate the background to some of their concerns,” the report noted.
In a May 14 email, John Mikkelsen, TC Energy's Director of Power Business Development, told The Independent that his company has been listening to the concerns expressed by Meaford residents, and that they have made changes to the design as a result.
“The feedback we have received has been clear. Protection of the environment, the local economy and way of life in Meaford are of utmost importance to its citizens,” Mikkelsen told The Independent. “As we completed elements of our feasibility work, progressed engineering studies and most importantly assessed the feedback we received from the public, we recognized that our original design concept for the project needed to change. While there is still a substantial level of confirmatory work to be done, we are now proposing a new design concept that responds to many of the concerns identified by the community.”
Mikkelsen said that a key change in the revised design, “is that the power house has been moved away from the shoreline and would be buried in a cavern. With the major components deep underground, noise output from the pumping and generating equipment during operations would be imperceptible. With these changes, the visibility of the project facilities from off the base, and particularly from the water, has been substantially reduced.”
He also said that the water intake for the facility has been moved away from the shoreline in updated designs.
“The new design will use tunnels installed beneath the lake-bed to access deep water, avoiding sensitive near-shore habitat. While field surveys are needed to confirm local conditions, available data indicates the anticipated location is not near sensitive fish habitat. The design of the inlet/outlet structures will include screens and lower velocities of water withdrawn and discharged to further protect fish that may be present. The screened intake structures would be raised off the lake-bed to avoid bottom-dwelling aquatic organisms, reducing the potential impacts on fish and reducing the potential to create turbidity. The results are no shoreline or near-shore structures, limited in-water infrastructure, protection of fish and fish habitat and avoidance of lake turbidity,” said Mikkelsen.
With the DND's commenting period closing on July 31, some residents have been pressuring council to take a public position on the proposed project, however members of council have resisted those pressures, preferring to await the release of the staff report which will be discussed by council on June 1.
Armstrong reminded council, the municipality has limited influence on the proposal.
“As noted in our previous report, the current consideration by the Department of National Defence is whether the proposal can occur on the Base and not impact their operations. This is not a matter that the Municipality can provide an opinion on. Staff believe that it is appropriate that the Department of National Defence also consider the issues list from the Municipality and that they should be satisfied that the issues can be addressed when they consider their decision to proceed,” the report to council suggested.
Should the proposal move beyond this initial feasibility stage, staff has recommended to council that the municipality will need to enlist the help of some experts.
“The municipality should engage a Project Manager from our engineering roster of consultants with expertise in environmental issues, and negotiate an agreement with TC Energy to cover municipal costs related to project management and peer review,” the report suggested. “Staff also reached out to the County of Grey with regard to jointly undertaking the peer review and Planning staff have agreed to this approach. This is similar to the peer review process that the Municipality and the County undertake on larger scale developments.”
The full municipal report (CAO2020-3, TC Energy Issues Report) can be found on the municipal website (meaford.ca). Council will hold a special meeting on June 1 to discuss the report and the municipal response to the DND prior to the closure of their commenting period. Due to current COVID-19 distancing measures, the meeting will be held virtually and can be viewed on the municipal YouTube channel.
Those wanting to offer input or opinions about the proposal can send an e-mail with feedback to Holly King, Section Head, Directorate Real Property Services, DND, at ThirdPartyAccess@forces.gc.ca. The deadline for submission of comments is July 31.
More information can be found by visiting www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/campaigns/consultations-4th-division-hydroelectric-pumped-storage-meaford.html and www.tcenergy.com/operations/power/pumped-storage-project/.