Wednesday, June 19, 2024

County Council Offers Conditional Support to Pumped Storage Proposal

Grey County Council has voted in favour of offering conditional support of TC Energy’s proposed hydroelectric pumped storage facility to be located on the grounds of the 4th Canadian Division Training Centre in the Municipality of Meaford.

The motion, brought forward during County Council’s April 25 meeting by Owen Sound mayor Ian Boddy, and seconded by Meaford’s Deputy Mayor Shirley Keaveney, was supported by all but one county councillor, Peter Bordignon, Deputy Mayor of the Town of the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains council had previously voted in favour of a resolution opposing the project, however Blue Mountains Mayor Andrea Matrosovs supported the county resolution offering conditional support.

Last week, prior to the County Council vote, local advocacy group Save Georgian Bay issued a media release warning of the potential dangers to be found on the military base. The group issued “an urgent request to Defence Minister Bill Blair to halt all preliminary work on TC Energy’s proposed Pumped Storage Project at a military training base in Meaford that is littered with unexploded munitions and toxic chemicals. Any further pre-construction activities could increase the dangers from that contamination, posing serious threats to the health and water supply of the local community and to Georgian Bay itself, the source of drinking water for tens of thousands around its shores.”

In recent months, four Bay-area municipalities (Township of The Archipelago, Township of Georgian Bay, Town of the Blue Mountains, Parry Sound) passed motions expressing opposition to TC Energy’s proposed hydro-electric pumped storage facility, however earlier this month Owen Sound’s council unanimously approved a motion offering conditional support for the proposal.

Since the proposed facility first became public in 2019, Save Georgian Bay has been raising awareness and expressing opposition to the proposal. The group has held a number of protest rallies, and has collected thousands of signatures on petitions opposing the proposed facility. Recently, Save Georgian Bay has been calling upon Bay-area municipalities to express opposition to the proposed pumped storage plant.

The concerns of opponents are many, ranging from fears that the facility would have negative impacts on the environment, including negatively impacting fish in the bay, to concerns that homeowners in close proximity to the site could be in danger of flooding should the reservoir fail.

TC Energy, on the other hand, says the proposal is a green initiative that would consume inexpensive off-peak power at night to pump water from Georgian Bay into a 374-acre storage reservoir located 150 metres above the Georgian Bay shoreline on the military base. The reservoir, which would hold 20 million cubic metres of water, would be emptied back into Georgian Bay during peak usage periods, driving hydraulic turbines to generate electricity.

TC Energy’s plan requires the excavation of a 375-acre reservoir on the 4th Canadian Division Training Centre, known locally as the Meaford Tank Range, where decades of live-fire weapons’ training have left a documented legacy of exploded and unexploded ordnance (UXOs), heavy metals and toxic chemicals,” Save Georgian Bay stated in their media release. “So contaminated is the base that nearly a third of its 19,000-acre site, located on a promontory of Georgian Bay, has been declared off-limits to military and police personnel training there. Among the contaminants listed on a review of Federal Contaminated Sites: lead, methyl mercury, selenium, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and organo-metallic compounds containing arsenic and zinc—all serious threats to soil, water, marine life and human health.”

Environmental impact studies have yet to be undertaken, though TC Energy has noted that they are an important step in the process. A Federal Impact Assessment will be conducted by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, along with two provincial Class Environmental Assessments. All of the coming impact studies will include public input, and consultation with local Indigenous groups. The studies are expected to be undertaken later this year, and will take roughly three years to complete.

After the April 25 County Council meeting, Meaford’s Deputy Mayor offered an update and some commentary on her Facebook page.

I want to begin by expressing my appreciation to Councillor Boddy for bringing this very important motion forward this morning for our consideration, I am pleased to be the seconder,” Keaveney said in her post. “Meaford as the Host Community has the advantage of four years of knowledge relating to the proposed Ontario Pumped storage project.”

On Monday, April 29, Meaford’s council approved the selection of members for the newly formed Pumped Storage Advisory Committee. The citizen members of the committee will be Bob Baranski, Ginny Ellis, Howard Fletcher, Doug Haslam, Martin Hederich, Lindy Kingston, Bob Peel, David Richardson, and Adam Vaughan.

The first meeting of the Pumped Storage Advisory Committee will be held on May 9, and the initial meeting will be primarily focused on committee training.

In February of last year, in a 5-2 vote, Meaford’s council approved a motion offering conditional support for the project, subject to a number of conditions, including confirmation with TC Energy that the municipality will be compensated for all costs incurred related to the proposal, development of an agreement with TC Energy for short- and long-term community benefits, and subject to the approval of the proposed facility by all relevant jurisdictions, including environmental impact assessments and all other required regulatory approvals.

In July of last year, council approved the appointment of two consulting firms, StrategyCorp and Ainley Group, to assist council and the municipality in moving through the process.

StrategyCorp were engaged to work on the development and negotiation of a community benefit agreement with TCE, while Ainley Group were awarded project coordinator services,” noted the report to council. “Since that time, staff have had initial conversations with both organizations, in an effort to ensure that the municipal work related to this project move forward smoothly. Staff intend to provide Council with a quarterly update on the TCE Pumped Storage project, generally at the first meeting of each quarter, along with additional information as required.”

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