Meaford council is looking to the Department of National Defence and TC Energy to address issues the municipality has with a pumped storage facility proposed at the Meaford base.
A public meeting on the project held Monday via video conferencing featured nine deputations, with Meaford councillors hearing from DND, TC Energy and community groups with concerns over the proposal or in outright opposition to it.
Meaford councillors passed three resolutions relating to the pumped storage facility proposed at the 4th Canadian Division Training Centre at Meaford – DND lands.
The facility would involve pumping water from a low-lying reservoir to a higher elevation reservoir during periods of low demand for electricity, and then releasing the water back through turbines to generate electricity when power demand is higher.
Councillors resolved to direct staff to submit a letter to the Department of National Defence and TC Energy highlighting issues identified with the project, and requesting DND confirm the issues will be addressed by DND or other applicable federal regulatory body prior to granting approval by the Dominion Water Power Act to proceed with the project.
A report prepared by Meaford CAO Rob Armstrong on the proposed pump storage facility includes issues identified by the municipality.
Environment, visual impact, socio-economic, transportation infrastructure and other concerns associated with the proposed project are among the issues brought forward by the municipality in the CAO’s report.
Armstrong’s report says it's "imperative" the proposed project not result in any impacts on water quality including turbidity issues affecting the pristine waters of Georgian Bay, while noting the municipal water intake for Meaford is only about 6.6 kilometres south of the proposed outfall and must not be impacted.
The municipality expresses concern over any adverse impact on fisheries, light and noise impacts on nearby residents and the impact on municipal roads during the four-year construction period.
The issues report also notes concerns identified by community members over a potential breach of the reservoir resulting in a catastrophic impact on residents below the escarpment, with the municipality stressing a risk/dam break analysis should be provided as part of detailed reservoir design.
Clark Little was one of the TC Energy representatives speaking at the video conference meeting.
Little called the CAO’s report highlighting some issues an excellent summary of challenges visible now that is “very helpful” for TC Energy as it moves forward.
"We look forward to getting together with council, staff, residents of the municipality and the county to address the challenges outlined and together seek acceptable and workable solutions to all of them," Little told Meaford councilors.
In a letter to the Meaford community posted on TC Energy's webpage, the company outlines some design changes it is undertaking with the proposed project to respond to concerns.
It highlights two changes specifically. The first is moving the power house away from the shoreline to be buried in a cavern. TC Energy says with the major components deep underground, noise output from pumping and generating equipment during operations will be imperceptible. This change will also reduce the visibility of the facilities, particularly from the water, the company says.
The second design change it highlights is moving the water intake/outfall away from the shoreline. TC Energy says tunnels installed beneath the lakebed will access deep water, avoiding sensitive near-shore fish habitat.
"The inlet/outlet structures will be raised off the lakebed to avoid bottom dwelling aquatic organisms and the potential to create turbidity," the company’s letter explains. "They will incorporate fixed screens which will limit the speed of water withdrawn to further protect fish that may be present. The results are no shoreline or near shore structures, no visible in-water infrastructure, protection of fish and fish habitat and avoidance of turbidity."
Peter Crain, from the Department of National Defence, detailed the approval process for the proposed TC Energy project during Monday’s meeting.
Crain told councilors water power generation on crown land is covered by the Dominion Water Power Act, which is administered by Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs department. It is responsible under the Act for granting priority permits, interim licences and final licences, Crain says.
The Act also stipulates, Crain says, any land used for a water power generation project like this must remain in custody of the federal government.
He says DND is limited in scope in making a determination if the project can be accommodated on the base while still permitting its function of training Canadian Armed Forces personnel there.
"DND is not a proponent of this project, nor are we a partner with (TCEnergy) in this project," Crain says. "Meaford is not surplus lands. Meaford will continue to train Armed Forces personnel into the future and the lands will remain under federal custody whether the proposal is picked up or not."
Crain notes if the process moves ahead past TC Energy’s feasibility study and an impact assessment being conducted by DND, then the proposal would proceed to an impact assessment in accordance with the Impact Assessment Act.
"It could take up to three years or longer," explains Crain. "And that results in a Government of Canada decision on whether the project will go forward or not, followed by construction and operations."
It's the role of the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada to assess positive and negative aspects of a proposal like this, Crain adds, informed by public engagement, consultation, studies, effects and benefits.
TC Energy first approached DND in 2017 to conduct feasibility studies on the lands at the Meaford base and make a determination if their project is feasible, Crain says.
Meaford council received letter in June 2019 that DND was considering TC Energy's proposal.
Members from the community group Save Georgian Bay also spoke at Monday’s public meeting.
Save Georgian Bay is opposed to the proposed pumped storage facility, mainly over concerns tied to the impact on the environment and local community. Fish mortality, water turbidity, and water and air pollution during the construction phase are among the concerns the volunteer group has with the proposal.
Save Georgian Bay also takes issue with a new transmission line that would go from Meaford to Essa County as part of the project, saying many questions remain unanswered about its impact and proximity to residential areas.
The Georgian Bay Association, which works with community stakeholders to ensure careful stewardship of Georgian Bay, also expressed its main objective to ensure environmental impacts are minimized if the project does go ahead.
The organization’s executive director Rupert Kindersley mentioned specific environmental concerns over turbidity, fish mortality, fish habitat, species at risk and currents in Georgian Bay.
In addition to asking staff to send letters to DND and TC Energy highlighting issues the municipality has with the project, Meaford council approved two other resolutions Monday.
Councillors resolved to declare support for the proposed TC Energy project proceeding to the applicable environmental assessment approvals process, provided that the Department of National Defence or other applicable federal regulatory body confirms certain identified issues will be addressed.
Meaford council also directed staff to retain a project manager to coordinate peer review studies and to negotiate an agreement with TC Energy with regard to compensation of the municipal costs.
If it does move ahead, the pumped storage facility is expected to create about 20 full-time jobs to operate the site. Hundreds more jobs will be created temporarily through the construction period of the project.