Saturday, May 21, 2022

If Pumped Storage Project Proceeds, Meaford Should Demand Significant Economic Benefit

Whether you oppose the pumped storage facility proposed for the Meaford Tank Range or support it, the reality is that residents of this municipality along with our council have virtually no influence on whether the project is allowed to move forward, and should it ultimately be given the green light, this municipality should rightly expect to see some sort of economic benefit as the host community to what will be the largest construction project in the province.

I applaud Councillor Paul Vickers for raising the issue during this week’s council meeting with a motion requesting that staff prepare a report outlining the potential economic benefits that this municipality could negotiate to receive from proponent TC Energy.

Should it proceed, this pumped storage project will be of a size not many of us have ever experienced. The more than $4 billion project is expected to take four years to build, and during that time this community will see an influx of some 800 workers from outside this municipality along with a virtual parade of large transport trucks and heavy equipment moving through this community en route to the Base, bringing with it traffic frustration, noise, and a host of other potential issues. Those years of inconvenience should be worth something – in fact it should be worth a lot.

Vickers found the support of the remainder of council for his motion, and so we can now expect a report from staff in late July, prior to council’s traditional August break, that will outline some of the potential economic benefits that Meaford could negotiate.

With the proposed facility to be located on DND land, there is no huge assessment increase on the horizon, so we must be prepared as a municipality, and we must be prepared to play hardball.

Given that TC Energy has said that they will be spending $4.3 billion to construct the facility, a massive amount of money, anything that this community requests or demands as compensation will literally be chump change to TC Energy. Heck, one percent of the estimated cost to build the facility amounts to more than $40 million, and would one percent of the value of the project be too much to demand in economic benefit to the community?

I’m not suggesting any specific number as a target, I am simply highlighting the massive amount of money we are talking about. This isn’t a $27 million school construction, or a $7 million library build, this is a monstrous $4.3 billion project; you could build our new library more than 600 times with $4.3 billion, so now is not the time to be shy, or to be polite. It is time to ensure that TC Energy knows that if they are going to build this mega project in this municipality we expect mega economic benefit.

This municipality has a lengthy list of needs and wants. Just last month council was discussing the millions of dollars needed to revive our half century old arena, we have dozens of bridges in need of rehabilitation, we have calls from the public for a toboggan hill, a new swimming pool, to name just a few. All of those items would not even amount to one percent of the estimated cost of this project, so again, this is not a time to be polite, it is a time to look out for the best interests of this municipality.

We have seen other communities benefit when a major corporation moves into town, whether it be with spiffy new arenas, or community centres, or park playground equipment, but again, this will be the largest construction project in the province, a mega-project that will bring with it years of frustration and inconvenience for locals, so I don’t believe that any ask would be too much. As Councillor Vickers noted on Monday, we need to ensure that this municipality sees significant economic benefit should this project be given the green light, a likelihood that many don’t want to consider.

My own view is that our municipal staff should negotiate for every conceivable crumb that we can collect with regard to this project. I don’t think any of us can truly imagine the magnitude of such an enormous project. If we thought the two years of construction of our new school and library brought some havoc to the community, multiply that experience a hundred times over and you might be close to imagining what the four years of construction will be like.

This council has found itself in an unenviable spot over the past couple of years with a mega project proposed within the municipality yet on DND-controlled land, leaving council with virtually no input or influence over the proposal and whether or not it is approved to move forward. But what we can influence is any potential economic benefit that could be realized by the community at large.

We can’t wait until the upper levels of government green-light this project before we make some demands; that process needs to start before any such approval, and we need to not be bashful, to not be polite – we need to squeeze every ounce of economic benefit we can out of this project should it move forward.

 

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