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Council concerned about power generators on the Petawawa River

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer

PETAWAWA -Mayor Bob Sweet told a firm planning the construction of two generating stations on the Petawawa River there are concerns about how the project will impact the fast flowing river.

While Xeneca Power Developm

ent remains between 12 months to two years from securing provincial authorization to begin work at the two sites, the company maintains it wants to work with all stakeholders during the development and approval process.

Xeneca vice-president Mark Holmes told council hydrological and topographical studies show the Petawawa River has generation potential.

He added the Ontario Power Authority has approved both potential Petawawa stations for the Feed-In Tariff program, however, the southern Ontario firm has a five-year window to carry out development.

As recreational users and Black Bay residents packed the council chambers, Mayor Sweet restated his unease with some aspects of the project, including the prospect of concrete dams blocking portions of the Petawawa River.

"There's a nervousness around this whole project," Mayor Sweet said, relaying concerns he heard at last weekend's Hell or High Water Festival which saw more than 100 kayakers and rafters compete on the very water that could be affected by the development.

Xeneca is proposing a station at the Big Eddy rapid situated just west of the Canadian Pacific Railway bridge with the potential to generate up to five megawatts. The second station is slated for Half Mile Rapids in the vicinity of Mountbatten Bridge at CFB Petawawa, with the possibility of creating 3.3 megawatts.

While there are many options for the Big Eddy station, Mr. Holmes said the preferred choice is an intake and 400-metre conveyance channel that would divert water. Those flows would filter through a power house turning a turbine that would generate the power.

Plans call for the channel to stretch from a point upstream from the CPR trestle across base property to an outlet on the river bend where a power house would be situated. According to a map included in the Xeneca presentation, that outlet would be less than 200 metres upstream from the Petawawa River bridge.

"At this juncture, for the social, economic and environmental reasons, the channel diversion is the preferred option," he said. "We think that when this is completed most people wouldn't even know that it's there."

The station would provide electricity for at least four years, which is the terms of the contract, however it could last as a facility for between 80 and 100 years. Xeneca is developing the project with a subsidiary, Petawawa Green Electricity Development Inc.

The next stage in the development is the class water power environmental assessment which will determine the final type of generating plant for the site. However, Mr. Holmes left on the table the possibility of a small structure in the river that would be one metre high but could maintain water levels within seasonal norms.

Mayor Sweet expressed grave concerns over any such structure being built on the river.

"When I hear dams and I hear concrete and holding back water, there's a need for some reassurance that the natural beauty that we have in our community, the Petawawa River, is not going to be altered as a result of anything that is happening on this river," said Mayor Sweet.

Mr. Holmes said the company prefers not to build in-water structures as they prove to be difficult and costly. They could save between up to $3 million in costs if they didn't go down that road, he noted.

"One of the options is a small structure in the river," Mr. Holmes explained.

"There's a number of different ways that could be done. It doesn't mean it's going to happen."

Mayor Sweet noted the town may not have much say in whether the project proceeds or not. According to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), the new Green Energy Act will have the power to take away planning approval from municipalities with the final decision-making resting solely with the province. It's a policy Mayor Sweet called "undemocratic."

"It doesn't matter what we say," he said. "Toronto is going to do what they think is right. That's unacceptable and that's not the way Ontario should work."

So far, Xeneca has signed temporary leases with both the town and CFB Petawawa. The five-year lease with the town, signed in 2007, gives the firm access to the site locations to conduct surveys.

Mr. Holmes said Xeneca remains committed to consulting with the public, including the community and all users of the river. A consultation group, the Petawawa Stakeholders Advisory Committee, has been formed with representatives from Wilderness Outfitters, the Pembroke Outdoorsman's Club and H&H Construction. Two public meetings are also planned for later this year.

Sean Chase is a Daily Observer reporter

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