Project is ‘modified’ 0
The Black Bay Ratepayers Association led a community rally Tuesday night protesting plans to build a hydro electric power station on the Petawawa River. Inclement weather dampened numbers as rally organizers hoped to stretch a candlelight vigil from the town hall down to the Catwalk. For more community photos please visit our website photo gallery at www.thedailyobserver.ca.
PETAWAWA – The town remains anxious over plans to build a hydro generating station on the Petawawa River even as the class environmental assessment for the project draws to a conclusion.
Council once more voiced concerns over the controversial project Tuesday night as members of the community rallied outside town hall holding a candlelight vigil in opposition to the proposed green energy facility.
Construction of a “Run of River” type complex at the Railroad Rapids just west of the town is scheduled to begin in September 2013 if the project is approved by provincial and federal government oversight agencies.
Xeneca Power Development plans to install a low profile weir across the river that will permit recreational users and schools of fish to pass over. According to a summary of the concept designs presented to council, the structure will not store water or not change the natural river flows upstream of an intake channel situated above the rapids at the former Canadian Pacific Railways bridge. Water will run into a powerhouse outflow located west of the the Petawawa Bridge.
In front of a packed council chambers, Xeneca vice-president Mark Holmes said the consultation process with the community and some 675 stakeholders, including recreational users and environmental groups, has modified the project substantially.
“We had to find consensus and it’s fair to say a much better project is being proposed,“ said Mr. Holmes.
The state-of-the-art weir will remain submerged to permit fish and kayaks to pass while blending in with the natural environment, he explained, adding it will maintain environmental integrity while addressing safety concerns. In a nod to the kayaking community, the company has agreed to cease operations during the “Hell or High Water” competition in May. River levels will remain consistent with the intake channel and there will be no storage of water at the site.
“We believe it sets a new standard for water power development on river systems and this may lead to better projects elsewhere,” said Mr. Holmes.
The Railroad Rapids station has the potential to generate up to five megawatts. Under an agreement with the Ontario Power Authority, the station must be commissioned by April 2015 as the province plans to replace coal fire plants with renewable energy generators. Xeneca anticipates the Ministry of Environment to green light the project as early as this December.
Although council’s official position towards the project has been one of neutrality, Mayor Bob Sweet said the community is deeply concerned about the impact the station could have on the Petawawa River, an historic and economically important component of the town.
“There’s a great deal of nervousness about this project,” Mayor Sweet told Mr. Holmes.”I’m still concerned about the impact and the integrity of the river. There’s not a comfort level with this process. While you may think it is viable, there is a lot of uncertainty.”
In September, Xeneca plans to conclude the class environmental assessment at which numerous federal and provincial regulators demand that the developer demonstrate that its proposed project will not damage the environment and will not interfere with spawning migration of Ottawa River walleye and river sturgeon, besides not obstructing river navigation or creating hazardous conditions to swimmers downstream.
However, Mayor Sweet reminded Mr. Holmes that the regional office of the Ministry of Natural Resources has not seen any final project concepts for review as of yet. Mr. Holmes responded that his company has been in constant touch with the MNR and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Mayor Sweet noted that the land the project will be developed on is federally-owned while the riverbed and the water is under provincial jurisdiction.
“We have no say in this, whatsoever,” he said.
Xeneca confirmed Tuesday that the Department of National Defence turned down its plans to build a second station at Half Mile Rapids in the vicinity of Mountbatten Bridge in the CFB Petawawa training area. Base commander Lt.-Col. Chris Moyle said later that discussions with Xeneca earlier this year led to the decision, noting that the project was incompatible with the military training being conducted on an ongoing basis.
Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist