Thursday, July 25, 2024

Renewed Call For Referendum Regarding Pumped Storage Proposal

During the public participation portion of Monday’s (July 8) council meeting agenda, three residents made presentations to council regarding the proposed hydro-electric pumped storage facility to be located on the grounds of the 4th Canadian Division Training Centre in the Municipality of Meaford. One of those making a presentation, Meaford resident Michael Ashmore, called upon council to allow for a referendum to be held on the issue.

We would like a democratic say, we don’t believe we have had one yet,” Ashmore told council during his remarks. “On September 27, 2022, at a council candidates meeting in Bognor, I asked the candidates if they would support a referendum on the willingness to host the TCE PSP. Eight said yes, two said no, and two abstained. Of the eight that said yes, four were elected.”

Ashmore called on the four councillors who had expressed support for a referendum in 2022 to move a motion that would set the wheels in motion for a referendum.

I would like to ask the four councillors who supported the referendum to approve a motion for the binding said referendum to to take place on October 26, 2026, as allowed by law,” Ashmore told council.

In Ontario, the Direct Democracy Through Municipal Referendums Act, 2000, allows for a municipality to include a question on the ballot at election time. The next municipal election in Ontario will be held on October 26, 2026.

Under the Act, a municipal council must pass a bylaw at least 180 days before election day in order to include a question on the ballot for electors.

Per the Act, a question on the ballot must concern a matter within the jurisdiction of the municipality, and it shall not concern a matter which has been prescribed by the Minister as a matter of provincial interest. The only permitted answers to a question on a ballot are yes or no.

Results of a question on a ballot are only binding provided that at least 50 percent of eligible voters in the municipality vote on the question, and that more than 50 percent of the votes on the question are in favour.

In the 2022 municipal election in the Municipality of Meaford, only 37.4 percent of eligible voters participated, down from 43.8 percent in 2018, and 50 percent in 2014 and 2010.

Since the proposed facility first became public knowledge in 2019, local advocacy group Save Georgian Bay has been raising awareness and expressing opposition to the proposal. The group has held a number of protest rallies and has collected thousands of signatures on petitions opposing the proposed facility.

The concerns of Save Georgian Bay and other opponents are many, ranging from fears that the facility would have negative impacts on the environment, including negatively impacting fish in the bay, to concerns that homeowners in close proximity to the site could be in danger of flooding should the reservoir fail. Many have also expressed concern about the cost of the more than $4 billion proposal, and whether pumped storage should be favoured over battery storage. Save Georgian Bay has said that their work over the past four years has highlighted roughly 30 federally protected species at risk on the project’s proposed site.

TC Energy, on the other hand, says the proposal is a green initiative that would consume inexpensive off-peak power at night to pump water from Georgian Bay into a 374-acre storage reservoir located 150 metres above the Georgian Bay shoreline on the military base. The reservoir, which would hold 20 million cubic metres of water, would be emptied back into Georgian Bay during peak usage periods, driving hydraulic turbines to generate electricity.

In February of last year, in a 5-2 vote, Meaford’s council approved a motion offering conditional support for the project, subject to a number of conditions, including confirmation with TC Energy that the municipality will be compensated for all costs incurred related to the proposal, development of an agreement with TC Energy for short- and long-term community benefits, and subject to the approval of the proposed facility by all relevant jurisdictions, including environmental impact assessments and all other required regulatory approvals.

Environmental impact studies have yet to be undertaken, though TC Energy has noted that they are an important step in the process. A Federal Impact Assessment will be conducted by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, along with two provincial Class Environmental Assessments. All of the coming impact studies will include public input, and consultation with local Indigenous groups. The studies are expected to be undertaken later this year, and will take roughly three years to complete.

Save Georgian Bay has been calling upon Bay-area municipalities to express opposition to the proposed pumped storage plant.

In recent months, four Bay-area municipalities (Township of The Archipelago, Township of Georgian Bay, Town of the Blue Mountains, Parry Sound) passed motions expressing opposition to TC Energy’s proposed hydro-electric pumped storage facility, however in April, Owen Sound’s council unanimously approved a motion offering conditional support for the proposal. In April of this year, Grey County Council voted in favour of offering conditional support of TC Energy’s proposed hydroelectric pumped storage facility.

In July 2023, Meaford’s council approved the appointment of two consulting firms, StrategyCorp and Ainley Group, to assist council and the municipality in moving through the process.

During his remarks to council, Ashmore noted that the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, who proponent TC Energy hopes will be their partner in the project, will hold a referendum on the issue.

They are insisting that before they (SON) approve the plans, they will have a band vote or referendum,” Ashmore noted, adding that Meaford residents should also be afforded the opportunity to vote on the proposal.

Council did not respond to Ashmore’s call for a referendum during Monday’s council meeting.

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