Frustrated with a lack of engagement in the community by TC Energy, the proponent of a pumped storage facility on Meaford's military base, last month council asked staff to explore Meaford's options and bring a report to council.
At their November 4 meeting, staff had a report ready for council, and in that report they addressed what has become a common question – what did council know of the proposal and when. Some in the community feel that council failed residents by not alerting the community to the proposal earlier than late August when the news began circulating in the community.
“In late February 2019, staff attended a meeting with TC Energy, wherein we were made aware of the potential development of a pumped storage facility on the Base. At that point in time, they were still in the process of seeking approval from the Department of National Defence to proceed and until they reached an access agreement, there was no project,” CAO Rob Armstrong told council. “On June 6, 2019, the Municipality received correspondence from the Department of National Defence advising that, “Effective May 21, 2019, DND has provided TC Energy with a one-year Access Agreement, which is subject to limited renewal, to a specific area within 4 CDTC Meaford so they can conduct their studies. Please note that this temporary Access Agreement does not mean that the proposed hydroelectric PSP has been approved to move forward.”
Armstrong told council that the letter also highlighted the multiple layers of approval required if the proposal is to be realized, and those layers of approval include opportunities for community engagement.
“In response to this letter, staff immediately wrote to the Department of National Defense and noted some matters that the Municipality would like to see addressed as part of the formal approval process. This included potential impacts on municipal roads and area residents, housing for temporary workers and transmission line details amongst other matters. The letter also discussed the importance of continuous public consultation throughout this process,” Armstrong told council. “It is also the Municipality’s understanding that DND and/or TC Energy wrote to the area Cottagers Association to make them aware of the project and explained the extent of the Consultation process as well. Following the notification of the proposal, a group of concerned residents formed a group, Save Georgian Bay, who have been hosting their own public meetings.”
Armstrong told council that TC Energy has rented the Meaford & St. Vincent Community Centre on December 11, and will be holding a public meeting though he had no further details.
Contacted by The Independent seeking information about the public meeting, Jennifer Link of TC Energy would only confirm that the community centre had been booked and that a meeting would be held on December 11. She said that she could not provide a time for the meeting, and would only confirm that it would be in the evening.
While members of council were pleased to hear that a meeting would be held, some questioned the timing, with Councillor Harley Greenfield noting that the meeting date is two weeks before Christmas, a time when many people are busy, and the weather can be unpredictable.
Armstrong also stressed to council and the public who attended the meeting that the municipality has no role or say in this early feasibility study phase of the proposal.
“Although the lands fall within the Municipality of Meaford, the Municipality has no jurisdiction for any approvals on Federal Lands. The Municipality would become more involved in the approval of the transmission corridor if it were to run through the Municipality,” Armstrong told council.
The report to council also noted the frequent request of some residents for the municipality to take a public position on the proposed pumped storage facility.
“Certain members of the community have requested that Council take a formal position against the proposal. It is the position of staff that until this proposal is given the clearance by DND to proceed to the formal regulatory process under the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act and the Federal Impact Assessment Act, it is premature to take any position. Staff note that this subsequent process will include Public Meetings, as well as detailed studies addressing applicable concerns raised as part of the initial consultation process,” Armstrong noted. “Staff would note that some of these studies will be quite technical in nature and outside the expertise of Municipal Staff to review. An example would be an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) prepared by a Biologist or a Shoreline Study prepared by a Fluvial Geomorphologist. It is recommended that the Municipality retain Peer Review Consultants to review the applicable studies and provide professional unbiased opinions to the Municipality in response to the various studies. This is common practice in the Municipality for any development under our jurisdiction.”
After a thorough discussion, council directed staff to prepare a report for council prior to the March commenting deadline that will include a comprehensive list of issues identified by the municipality, and to retain consultants to peer-review detailed reports should the project move forward to the formal approval process. Council also directed staff to hold a public meeting prior to the submission of any municipal comments as part of the formal approval process.
Image: TC Energy