Monday's special meeting of Council to discuss the long-awaited municipal report focused on the proposed pumped storage facility at Meaford's Tank Range will hopefully help to dissolve the myth frequently touted on social media that our council is in support of this proposal. Council discussion during the three-hour virtual meeting made clear that Council's views largely align with much of what we have heard from concerned residents over the past several months.
Six of the seven members of Meaford's Council arrived at the meeting with a laundry list of concerns about the proposed project, and none of those six were prepared to even consider an expression of support unless and until all of the concerns identified in the report presented to Council are fully addressed. Several times throughout the meeting we heard members of Council insist that the only route to support from this municipality will be through ensuring that the environment is protected along with the residents of this community.
While six members of Council shared similar concerns about the proposal, a notable exception was Councillor Paul Vickers, who, while agreeing with his fellow members of Council that environmental concerns should top the list of priorities, also said what several people have quietly whispered to me in recent weeks – this facility would be the biggest influx of jobs in this community in many years. And he suggested that an informed decision to support or to not support this proposal can only be made once this proposal moves on to the environmental assessment stage.
While Vickers' stance stood in contrast to the other members of Council, the one thing that all seven councillors agree on is that more information is needed, and that information can only be gathered by moving on to the environmental assessment phase, should the DND give the green light for the proposal to move in that direction.
While all members of Council concede that their influence on any decisions related to the proposal are minimal at best, this community can help shape some aspects of the project if it moves forward. TC Energy has already made changes to their designs that they say address many of the concerns expressed by the community. According to TC Energy, the design changes will make the facility all but invisible, and they suggest that their modifications to the inlet and outlet system will protect fish in the bay. Those assertions might very well be true, but the only way to find out is to go through the established processes.
It is important that residents not confuse Council's support of moving on to environmental assessments as support for the project itself. Several members of Council made it clear that they support moving to the environmental assessment phase in order to find answers to the questions that many of us have about the project.
Can TC Energy guarantee that no fish will be harmed? The environmental assessments will help answer that. Can TC Energy assure us that turbidity won't be an issue? The environmental assessments will help answer that too.
What the environmental assessments won't answer will be the social impacts on this community should the project be given a green light. How will this community absorb up to 1,000 workers for the four-year construction of the facility? How will Meaford's roads hold up to increased heavy equipment traffic? How would Meaford's businesses accommodate 1,000 workers? Would residents find themselves unable to find contractors to do work on their own existing homes, if the majority of our local contractors are busy working on the mega-project? Will property values actually decrease? How can any guarantee be offered that the dam for the reservoir will never break, putting residential homes in jeopardy?
I could go on. The list of questions and concerns is massive, and while the environmental assessments will help us to understand if the project can be built while protecting the environment, there is much work to be done in order to understand the social and economic impacts, both good and bad, that this project could have on our community.
Many have been hoping (and some have been demanding) that Council take a strong position against this proposed project, and those folks are unlikely to be satisfied with Council's decisions on Monday, but what Council has done is to make very clear the long list of concerns. And they have supported going to the next phase should the DND give a green light, not because they support the project itself, but because they support the established processes that are already in place.
Meaford's input on this proposal might be minimal, but Council has set a very high bar for any future support of this project, and rightly so. Our Deputy Mayor suggested that it will be no easy task for TC Energy to clear the coming hurdles, and that is true, but TC Energy also has a lot of clout, and upper levels of government are eager for environmental 'wins' and this project is being touted as a potential win.
Council's discussions on Monday along with the comprehensive staff report will form Meaford's official comments for the DND's feasibility study, but this is just the beginning of what will likely be years of studies and debates, so strap in, it is going to be a long ride.