The Renfrew Power Generation is looking to protect its financial future with new projects on the Bonnechere River.
But at least one of those projects isn’t getting automatic support. Work continues to develop the Thomas Low Generating Station Project, which entails replacing two early-1900s generating stations. RPG is also looking down river about 10 kilometres to develop another project at the First Chute in Horton Township, but Horton council says it won’t give official support at this time.
When applying to the Ontario Power Authority (OPA), bodies such as RPG earn points, including two points for official support from the host municipality.
RPG general manager Peter Boldt attended a Jan. 22 meeting with council to field questions, but that meeting did not lead, as anticipated, to official municipal support at the Feb. 5 meeting of Horton council. Staff had prepared a motion calling for Horton’s support of the project, at Lot 4, Concession 9, but the motion was not brought forward.
Another motion directs Horton council to ask OPA to grant the opportunity to conduct a peer review of RPG’s environmental impact study if RPG’s application is successful. If the green light was given for the peer review, the study would be conducted at RPG’s expense.
Horton’s caution is fitting, says scientist, environmentalist and Horton resident Kathy Lindsay, who sat in on Horton council Feb. 5.
She also attended the Jan. 22 meeting and followed up with a lengthy letter to council in which she said “it would seem prudent” for Horton Township and the Town of Renfrew to put the First Chute project “on hold until the Thomas Low development proves itself.” In her letter, she presents seven concerns:
• the loss of the Bonnechere River’s last, free-flowing rapids;
• loss of the First Chute for its recreational, tourism, natural, social, cultural and heritage value;
• shoreline erosion;
• aquatic migratory concerns;
• construction-related road repairs;
• increased sediment loads in the Bonnechere and Ottawa rivers; and
• more costs than benefits for Horton.
Lindsay, who has a PhD in landscape ecology, said in the same letter that the project will alter the First Chute for generations to come “at a time when we are facing a changing climate that is projected to result in water deficits in our managed waterways.
“Horton should not be rushed into making a decision to endorse this project at this time.”
Nor is Lindsay the only concerned citizen, said Deputy Mayor Bob Kingsbury, who sat in for Mayor Don Eady who is recovering from surgery.
“There is a lot of interest out there by quite a few people, and residents of Horton, that we are maybe destroying a natural historical site of our township with no say,” said Kingsbury.
The deputy mayor said Horton should be asking for some type of control over what happens to the site.
“Yes, Renfrew Power Generation owns the land around. Yes, they may own up to the high-water mark on the banks. But they don’t own the historical value of the site itself, of the chutes themselves. That is distinct to Horton Township, but I would recommend that we defer this to a future meeting, and that a resolution be put forward asking the powers to be that there be a peer review.”
Coun. Glen Campbell said he felt the township should work with, and not against, Renfrew Power Generation.
Coun. Jamey Larone said council needs to do its homework, including examination of a site plan, before making a decision.
Also, he said this decision isn’t strictly about council members but about “people in our community and what their wishes are as well.”
Through a peer review the township should learn more about the potential environmental impact of the project, said Kingsbury.
Lindsay applauded council’s move.
As the Bonnechere River Watershed Project chair and a Horton resident who cottages on the Bonnechere downstream, she said she values the First Chute as a place of natural beauty and recreation.
“It has economic value for the area, in terms of tourists and residents, so I would want to be sure, and certainly urge council to be sure, that the project that is being proposed for power generation, first of all, is actually economically viable,” said Lindsay.
“It would be a shame to lose that site to a generating station that can only operate a few months of the year because there isn’t enough water, like we saw this past summer.”
Lindsay said she thought Coun. Campbell’s comments were reasonable, that the township should be a partner in the process, so there’s as positive an outcome as possible for Horton and RPG.
Unless future meetings determine otherwise, it appears RPG will make its First Chute application to the OPA without the township’s backing.