Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Save Georgian Bay Receives Award From Ontario Nature

Local advocacy group, Save Georgian Bay has seen their efforts to raise awareness about 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, recognized with an award from Ontario Nature.

The award was presented at Ontario Nature’s annual Conservation Awards gala at the Evergreen Resort on the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula on Saturday June 1. Save Georgian Bay was one of nine individuals and organizations presented with awards at the event.

Save Georgian Bay are the winners of the Ontario Nature Corporate Award for working with partners and mobilizing the public to protect the ecosystems of the Niagara Escarpment and Georgian Bay to oppose a proposed large-scale pumped water storage hydroelectric generation project,” Ontario Nature announced in a media release issued on June 4.

In their own media release issued the same day, Save Georgian Bay said that they were honoured to receive the award.

Our group was surprised and humbled to learn we had received Ontario Nature’s 2024 Corporate Award for Conservation,” said Tom Buck, a director of the Save Georgian Bay Association, who accepted the award along with treasurer Louise Green. “We are honoured to be among the many organizations who work every day to protect our environment from harm. As it is with so many environmental organizations, the work can be thankless and often frustrating. We persist in a battle against a huge corporation, TC Energy, as well as the Department of Defence and the Ontario Energy Ministry who are pushing the project forward despite the environmental harm it would cause and the massive cost to the people of Ontario.”

Since the proposed facility first became public in 2019, 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.

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.

This award recognizes the many people who support and take part in Save Georgian Bay’s efforts,” Buck said in the Save Georgian Bay media release. “Our supporters have written letters to political leaders, called Georgian Bay councillors, made deputations to councils and braved challenging weather to show up at political meetings with protest signs. Some have even shared their expertise by offering unpaid analyses of the project’s engineering shortcomings. We have produced environmental reports, published a bat study, gathered many thousands of signatures on petitions, and shared thousands of pages from Access to Information requests secured from the Department of Defense.  The work of our volunteers has been extraordinary. They do it because it’s right—it’s the right thing to do.”

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.

Recently, 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 of 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.

Save Georgian Bay says that their work over the past four years has highlighted roughly 30 federally protected species at risk on the project’s proposed site.

Eight decades of live-fire weapons training on that active military base have also left a legacy of unexploded munitions and toxic chemicals that risk draining into Georgian Bay, causing irreparable harm to the aquatic ecosystem as well as to the public health and safety of the estimated 100,000 people who rely on the bay for their drinking water,” suggested Save Georgian Bay in their media release.

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.

After receiving the award, Save Georgian Bay acknowledged their allies in the effort to raise awareness about the proposed facility.

We’ve had a chance to work next to some great organizations in this effort, like the Georgian Bay Association and the Ontario Clean Air Alliance,” Buck said. “At the conference, we were able to meet many other organizations making a terrific impact on preserving the environment. We are in awe of the accomplishments of our fellow Ontario Nature 2024 award winners and are grateful to be included among these heroes working to preserve Ontario’s environment. We greatly appreciate the work of Ontario Nature and the recognition this award offers Save Georgian Bay.”


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