For those most ardently opposed to the proposed pumped storage facility on the Meaford Tank Range, the recently (and finally) released report to Council which will help form the municipality's official comments on the proposal will no doubt have not gone far enough, though the report makes clear that, from the perspective of the municipality, the only acceptable position is to 'do no harm' to the environment and the community.
The report to Council is hefty – 39 pages including the supporting documents – and the message is clear: this community will expect nothing less than no damage to the environment, no damage to the fish in the bay, and no damage to the escarpment.
While few would dispute those positions, many of the most vocal opponents of the proposal were no doubt hoping for the report to express a solid stance against the project in its entirety, but the reality is that would be an inappropriate stance for any municipality at this stage.
The goal of this report to Council is to highlight the issues that have been identified, and to make it clear to TC Energy and the DND that, in spite of the municipality's painfully minimal influence on this proposed project, we do have an expectation that our environment and our community will be protected.
A special meeting of council has been scheduled for Monday, June 1, though unfortunately due to the current restrictions on public gatherings due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the meeting will be held virtually without the public in attendance.
Based on some of the early comments I have seen on social media since the report was released on Friday, I think it is important to clear up a few misconceptions.
Some have referred to this report as Council's position. That is not true. Council has yet to even discuss this report. The report is a staff report, provided at the request of council. This report will be discussed by members of council, and will help form the official comment submission of the municipality as part of the DND's feasibility study process.
I have also seen some suggest that the report expresses Council's support for the proposal. Again, Council has yet to even discuss this report. They laid eyes on it for the first time the same day that we all did, Friday, May 15. I would suspect that some members of council are currently on their third or forth read-through of the document, and they are no doubt making notes for their upcoming council discussion. Again this document is aimed at guiding council, per their request; it is not to be seen as the views of council.
It is perhaps interesting to note that, in spite of the vocal opposition expressed by members of Save Georgian Bay, in recent weeks I have seen growing support for the proposal – or at least I have seen more people willing to express support for the project. It is possible that as time has gone on, and people have had time to do their own research, there is less fear. That said, all who have expressed to me that they support the proposal have done so with the caveats that the environment and the aquatic life must be protected.
Whether this project moves forward or not, is not within the influence of the municipality. The best the municipality can do is exactly what it has done – develop a report based on research along with consultation with the community that clearly outlines the primary concerns of the municipality along with the expectations we would have should this proposal move further along in the process. Until we hear from the DND's own study, we won't know if the project has any life at all. Should the DND green-light the proposal there will be many layers of red tape and environmental assessments for it to navigate before we would ever see a shovel in the ground.
The road ahead is long, and it will have many twists and turns. This report to council will help form our official comments, but it will do little more than that. As I have written from the beginning, Meaford is unfortunately relatively powerless in this situation as the land is federally controlled, and the feds don't necessarily have to concern themselves with what anyone outside of the military base thinks.
That said, as minuscule as the municipality's influence might be, we can certainly make it known that we have expectations, and we have concerns. Last week I received an email from TC Energy in which they said that they have been paying attention to the concerns expressed by residents of this community, and that they have been modifying their designs to help accommodate some of those concerns. For some there is little consolation in those efforts, but it does show that while our input in the process is technically minimal, we can help shape the project should it move forward.
Council will have its hands full on June 1 when they tackle this report, and the discussion will be a worthwhile exercise that will with any luck result in an official position that the majority of us can support.