No matter your stance on the proposed hydroelectric pumped storage facility on Meaford's Tank Range, I think we in this community can all feel a sense of pride with how Meaford residents have responded to the massive proposal.
With the commenting period for the Department of Defence's study into the feasibility of allowing the project to be constructed on their base closing on Friday, July 31, concerned residents will now be anxiously awaiting a DND decision, which is expected to be made sometime this fall.
What has impressed me most throughout this past year has been the level of engagement by members of this community. Residents turned out by the hundreds to public information sessions held back in January, and those residents have remained active throughout.
The formation of the Save Georgian Bay group of concerned residents helped ensure that the proposal would remain at the top of mind for many. Over the past year, members of Save Georgian Bay have mobilized many in the community by hosting rallies, distributing signs, and organizing petitions. As a result residents have been submitting comments to the DND as well as to Meaford's council, neighbouring councils, and to our members of provincial and federal parliaments, and large numbers of letters to the editor have been submitted and published in this and other newspapers.
TC Energy has largely attributed recently announced design changes to concerns that have been expressed by the public over the past several months – a win for local activists, but the significant attendance of more than 400 concerned residents for TC Energy's July 22 virtual open house made it clear that the concerns extend far beyond the relatively few design changes that have been announced thus far.
Like other members of this community I have grappled with this proposal from the start, and while I share many of the concerns of residents, I concede that many of the most common concerns can likely be addressed by more changes to the designs. But one question keeps nagging at the back of my mind, and it seems like a concern that can never really be addressed by TC Energy or any level of government: with a 374 acre reservoir holding some 20 million cubic metres of water above their heads, how can the residents of nearly 150 homes below the reservoir ever truly feel safe?
It's true that the statistical likelihood of that reservoir ever being compromised to the point that down-hill properties end up in jeopardy is extremely low, but that can be of little comfort to some of those residents, and I think we all need to consider the real anxieties that might be experienced by some of those homeowners. That said, not all who live in what has been referred to as the 'impact zone' share those concerns, and I have heard from folks who live in that zone who not only have no fear for their properties, but who support the proposed project in principle. For those who do fear for the safety of their families and properties however, the anxiety is real.
While all of these long months of meetings, rallies, and petitions might feel like they are coming to an end with the closure of the DND's commenting period, should the DND's study green-light the proposal we as a community need to be prepared for several more years of it as layers of lengthy environmental studies and upper-level government approval processes get underway.
Of course should the DND's study reject the proposal, pumped storage and other such terms might quickly become a thing of our past, and many are hoping for just that result.
Whether you are supportive of the proposed pumped storage facility or adamantly opposed, there is still time to engage in this initial process by submitting your input to the DND, but time is quickly running out.
There is much at stake in this proposal, not only for Georgian Bay and this community but for the province at large; a $3 billion investment is never made unless significant profits are expected, and those profits won't be realized by those in this community, so I think it is fair when I hear some ask 'What's in it for us?' Big picture I can certainly understand the goals of the proposed facility, and while we can debate terms like 'green energy', I do believe that there are potential benefits for the provincial electrical grid on the whole. I wonder though if the cost to this municipality would negate any big picture benefits.
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/.