Sharkwater and Revolution director Rob Stewart turns cameras on saving Bala

rob-stewart-directorOn September 22, 2014 at the all-candidates meeting at the Bala Community Center in Bala, Ontario – all eyes turned to a controversial energy proposal threatening the town’s historic waterfalls. Parked outside of the meeting was a 45-foot motor home that unloaded Sharkwater (2007) and Revolution (2013) director Rob Stewart, a film crew with five cameramen, and a Canadian Police certified polygraph operator.

Canadian corporation Swift River Energy Limited is proposing a hydroelectric generating station be constructed at the famed and National Geographic award-winning Bala Falls.

“My friends and I grew up playing in these waterfalls and I couldn’t imagine Muskoka without them,” says Stewart. “A power plant here would degrade the heritage site, could kill innumerable fish and aquatic species, and affect Bala’s economy by degrading the town’s most beloved tourist destination.”

This energy project is part of the Ontario Government’s green energy policy – awarding energy contracts to private for-profit corporations that will sell the energy to Ontario Hydro. Energy produced by the plant will apparently be sold at 17 cents per kilowatt hour – a price far above current energy prices – meaning taxpayers will be subsidizing this energy production.

This proposal has caused outrage within the local community where 93 per cent of respondents to an independently conducted survey on the Cottage Country Now website, support Muskoka Lakes council’s efforts to continue to fight Swift River Energy on their hydro electric project in Bala. Another survey conducted by Protean Strategies found that 83 per cent of respondents answered “No” to the question, “Do you think the proposed power plant at Bala Falls should be built?”

Despite the public sentiment, some political candidates vocally support the project, which has become an election issue.

“The town is curious why those supporting the power plant are doing what they are doing,” said Bala resident and business owner Bill Purks. “I doubt my business that has been around since 1973 will be here if the power plant goes through.”

At the meeting, candidate for mayor Don Furniss and township councilor candidate Greg Knight were asked by filmmakers if they would take a lie detector test administered by a Canadian Police certified polygraph operator on the following statement: “Neither I, nor any of my family, businesses or affiliates stand to benefit from the proposed hydro power plant in Bala.” Both candidates agreed on camera to take the test after the meeting, but later refused.

There has also been concern about lawsuits being launched against opponents to the project, including a lawsuit against Mayor Alice Murphy.

Due to the significance of the land to First Nations, the federal and provincial governments and the corporation must consult with all potentially impacted First Nations. The Wahta Mohawks have not been consulted, according to Chief Philip Franks of the Wahta Mohawks community, and the plant would degrade the historically significant Bala Portage as the only water passage connecting the Muskokas to Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario.

“I am very concerned with the failure of various governments to involve our community in any or all discussions leading up to the decision to move forward with the development of this hydro-electric development without our full participation, under the Duty to Consult and Accommodate,” says Chief Wayne Pamajewon on behalf of Shawanaga First Nation.

A group of Bala townspeople have started a petition they believe will stop the powerplant  (click here to sign the petition) and a letter writing campaign to inform the relevant politicians.

Stewart and his team are developing a film around the grassroots movement that’s opposing the power plant. “Its just the kind of story people need to hear,” said Stewart. “Everyone should know they have a powerful voice.”

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Comments & Discussion

  1. Karen McGhee • October 2, 2014 @ 7:07 PM

    The author of this piece, as well as Stewart, have obviously received an extremely biased opinion of this project by a small number of individuals. You should check your facts before posting to the internet as several statements are downright incorrect and even more are simply misleading.

  2. kerry knoll • October 2, 2014 @ 8:11 PM

    Gee Karen, can youlist the incorrect and misleading statements or is that too much work?

  3. Karen Commandant • October 2, 2014 @ 8:57 PM

    This writer and filmmaker fairly represent the voice of the Bala residents and First Nations involved. Karen McGhee, SREL and their spin doctors have made many untrue comments regarding their so called “consultation” process with First Nations. Karen McGhee continues to disregard the First Nations relationship with the Province and Feds which requires government to government consultation on matters that affect their lands and aboriginal interests. First Nations have called for a true consultation process to occur and until this happens there has been no real consultation and the project MUST be placed on hold.

  4. Greg Knight • October 2, 2014 @ 9:59 PM

    Mr. Stewart told me he would be asking all candidates to take a polygraph. I agreed. I was anxious to hear how our Mayor Alice Murphy would answer. Mrs. Murphy was elected on a platform to stop the project. Her cottage is located a few hundred feet from the proposed plant. She is on record as stating the project will affect the enjoyment of her property and her property’s value. Seems to me, worthy of the big screen!

    It quickly became evident this was not for all candidates…this was a fabricated Hollywood style stunt targeted at myself and Don Furniss.

    I hope Mr. Stewart does continue his investigations. A true expose of what has gone on in Bala is worthy of his talents!

  5. stan • October 2, 2014 @ 11:15 PM

    wow, did Rob Stewart ever get taken down a path. Too bad he didn’t check out the facts first. I’m glad to see the current resident protest on the crown land has a sign that supports green energy. The falls will not be lost when the hydro plant is built, but Margret Burgess park may change a bit unless we work with the proponent.

  6. Richard Cower • October 2, 2014 @ 11:57 PM

    Do Not destroy these falls. This is madness.

  7. Walter Page • October 3, 2014 @ 7:34 AM

    Swift is posting here as they don’t know what to do and are losing ground in their struggle to hood wink their way through the process. Don Furniss is their selected representative as our others that do have something to gain in the building of this power plant. The size and scope has changed and Swift have been crafty and strategic in their approach which is now starting to bite them because the discussions and approvals wee for something different from what they are now proposing to build. The Whata hold the trump card and swift has not been forthright with Whata or any others so this project is ultimately going to be dismissed and for all the right reasons. Thanks to all of those that had the courage, vision, and dedicated the time to see that layers of Swift deceit were pealed back to expose this corporate gread cover community need created by an improperly designed government incentive plan for renewable energy.

  8. john • October 3, 2014 @ 9:00 AM

    I know it is your job to push for this power plant Karen McGhee but if you lived here and the falls were part of your hometown you would protect them like everyone else. There are many solutions to our energy future and all we are saying is that this one is too invasive at this point.

  9. John Wright • October 3, 2014 @ 9:42 AM

    Let’s remember the political landscape 8-9 years ago when all this began. EVERYONE is in favor of ‘GREEN’ but FEW and far between are in favor of this power plant in #Bala. It might have made sense to a chosen few, years ago, but ALL the factors have been altered. The size & location of the power plant. The amount (94%) of the water being ‘taken’ for power generation will leave no water for locals & tourists to swim in, view, & enjoy. People won’t come to see the dry rocks where the falls used to be. Our CANADIAN historical portage site & all the trees will be destroyed. FOUR KEY land mass areas could be lost to residents & tourists alike. Bad economics all around, for what? Corp profit? Please spread the word, & in #Muskoka VOTE in this election to #SaveTheBalaFalls.

  10. Allan Turnbull • October 3, 2014 @ 10:05 AM

    For those who don’t already know, Karen McGhee is the paid spokesperson for Swift River Energy.

  11. glenn zavitz • October 3, 2014 @ 10:26 AM

    Huh? I simply cannot understand why anyone who lives and/or cottages and/or visits this beautiful place would want to build a completely unnecessary energy plant smack in the middle of Bala. At what level do the proponents of this believe it will benefit anyone? It is totally ridiculous to assume Bala wins anything…move on Swift River, like McGuinty did-leave Bala alone-Alice and her group must prevail-please use my $8,000 tax bill to fund this fight-this cannot happen to such a perfect place!! thank you

  12. Larry Rozak • October 3, 2014 @ 10:50 AM

    Muskoka is the premier tourist area in Canada, known world wide for its natural beauty, rugged landscape and pristine waters.. Why anyone would risk reducing property values and losing precious tax dollars to install a power generating facility that would taka away from the natural beauty of the area is illogical. This is even more ludicrous when you consider that Swift River Energy is the only financial beneficiary in the entire process. This is just another case where tax payers foot the bill for the folly..
    Perhaps its our Provincial government officials that should be taking the lie detector test!

  13. nan allen • October 3, 2014 @ 11:44 AM

    Very well presented !

  14. Norah • October 3, 2014 @ 1:13 PM

    Loved Sharkwater and Stewart deserves all his commendations. But I’m puzzled. While most do not want the plant in its present position (including myself), it’s strange to see someone who works so hard to conserve to come out swinging against a green energy project. Does Mr. Stewart prefer nuclear? Also, I’d think he would find it preferable to build in a spot (by hwy/railway/dams) that had a plant before rather than in pristine wilderness. I recommend he read Dr. Robert Bullard’s book, Environmental Racism, so he understands how NIMBYs with resources can hijack the environmental movement Let’s hope we can save the Park and falls – maybe he can also focus on how people in Bala, including the Church, want that to happen.

  15. Elizabeth • October 3, 2014 @ 2:03 PM

    There already is a hydro generating station in Bala. It has generated “green”, sustainable energy since 1917 in a non-invasive way for the financial benefit of the municipality. Isn’t Bala doing its part already without jeopardizing tourism and important heritage?

  16. Doreen Dyson • October 3, 2014 @ 8:31 PM

    We need to keep the natural environment as it is such a beautiful natural water scape with so much historical background. We should not allow technology and change to take the serene beauty out of our lives.

  17. christine • October 4, 2014 @ 1:52 PM

    thank you Allan for pointing out that Karen McGhee represents Swift River; puts her comments in a totally different perspective. why this power plant was ever suggested or approved for this river is beyond everyone’s logic.
    it’s a beautiful area, one of Canada’s best known and most loved recreation areas. And the single highway running thru the town services everything north; traffic will stall, businesses will close and the entire town will be affected. it’s not easy running a business that services tourism largely for only two months of the year. And those of us with cottages and retirement homes want these businesses to stay and flourish. the beauty of the falls will be gone as well as the park. the hydro plant could have been built anywhere.
    pls vote in the next election and put in people who will get rid of these projects
    i’m a fan of Alice Murphy for Mayor.Sandy Currie, Ruth Ellen Nishikawa. Can anyone give an additional list of who has publicly opposed the falls hydro plant?

  18. Clear Lake Mother • October 4, 2014 @ 5:12 PM

    Dear Karen McGhee and Greg Knight,

    Thank you for reminding us to check the facts before posting to the Internet! Im sure waiting around for the money that you will get for overseeing the construction of a dirty energy source, built at the expense of Bala residents and the First Nations (otherwise known as Indians according to your spokesperson Don Furniss), for short term economic gain must be exhausting and time consuming. So I have taken it upon myself to fact-check for you.

    Here is what I have found:

    -Karen, you have been caught on two accounts meeting privately with Don Furniss and Greg Knight, one of which was at a local Tim Hortons. Maybe you were just hungry for a bacon sandwich, or one of their frosted doughnuts, but I have a hunch that this meeting was to discuss with Don what his rewards will be if he helps move along the construction of this hydroelectric power plant that he arrogantly made clear he was in support of at the all candidates meeting in Bala. (video coming soon)

    -93% of the town of Bala does NOT want the hydroelectric power plant to go through. Either statistics arent your strong point, or you have some fact checking to do yourself. 93% does not account for a SMALL number of individuals, whom according to you, we got our information from.

    -Greg Knight, you sly dog you! You ALMOST tricked us into thinking that you were a good bean. I decided to look into your history and turns out you are one rotten egg!. Here is what I found:

    -Your biography boasts of your experience renovating heritage buildings. Funny though, you forget to mention that in 2009 you were cited in Marham, Ont., for not completing the restoration of your 1840 home at 14 Alexander Hunter Place, in compliance with the approved plans, and did not stop work when requested by the Town. On no! Seems like you have a history of doing what you want and getting what you wantuntil now that is.

    -You are actively seeking contractor business in a small rural area where, in winter, you are almost the only game in town. How convenient for you; yet another way for you to profit from the construction of this toxic power plant.

    -Apparently, you have illegally converted a storage shed on the waterfront of Clear Lake Village Resort into a part-time residence for yourselfcomplete with a toilet, stereo, TV and a big couch to count your dirty money on. You called this unit a staff lounge, but your only staff are the live-in management, and they already have homes on the property. Not so sly after all

    -You stated that Mayor Alice Murphy, a woman you have outwardly bullied and have made your nemesis, was elected on a platform to stop the project. So, would that in turn mean that you are running for election on a platform to START the project?

    -In yet another failed attempt to slam Alice, in your comment, you wrote that she has stated on record that the project will effect the enjoyment of her property. Not sure what your point is. Are you saying that everyone who lives on the river, including Alice, who is concerned with preserving the value of their home is being ridiculous and can go screw? Seems like you have no concern over ruining other peoples property like when you built that huge resort on Clear Lake after all the townspeople asked you not to.

    The list could go on, but I dont want to keep you; trying to ruin an entire towns economy, ecosystem, and a historic First Nations portage takes a lot of time.

    Good luck with your endeavors, by the looks of it, youre going to need it.

  19. Imelda • October 5, 2014 @ 4:23 PM

    Mayor Murphy Ruth Nishikawa , Sandy Curry Donelda Kruckel are the only ones willing to stand up and be counted as people who have the best interest of Muskoka .
    The others are driven by self interest and and what’s good for them

  20. Lake muskoka parent • October 5, 2014 @ 4:55 PM

    The words ‘It’s a Done Deal’ is a ‘Brand’ It is a campaign likely orchestrated by a well paid advertising agency. Was it for use IN THE EVENT that the dumb country folk got wise to the plan and objected? Well, we did. The last I checked, we live in a democratic society. So if we live in a democracy – it Is NOT a Done deal. Right?

    Who isn’t for green energy? I am. But the Bala Falls project is NOT Green Energy. Not for 4.3 megawatts at the expense and the destruction of a town it’s not. Nope this is a well crafted cash grab by Swift River Energy engineered and blessed by the Great Dalton McGuinty (Where is he now? See gas plant scandal)and his Merry Band of Greed Driven Crooks.) Swift River Enegry (SREL) stands to make over 100 million dollars over the next 40 years. And the best news? We, the taxpayers will subsidize it.

    The Green Energy Act is deeply flawed. Period.
    The FIT program is a complete and utter failure
    Section #28 und the Public Lands Act was snuck in there during ‘support negotiations’ between Premier Wynne – a McGuinty understudy, and Andrea Horvath The Act robs us of our rights as taxpayers in Ontario.

    Please Google Section #28 Public Lands Act everyone

    In addition, lest we for the rights of the Wahta Mohawks and First Nations

    And don’t get me started on the sickening removal of Memorial Trees and plaques at Diver’s Point allegedly quarterbacked by disgruntled ex councillor Mary Grady and allegedly because the MNR or some agency suddenly could not maneuver their trucks. So then, why were the trees replaced with large boulders? Would this have anything to do with SREL?

    SREL launched what most are calling ‘SLAP’ suits of more than 2 million – maybe it is more than 3 million dollars each against the Mayor and one councillor as well as leaving a couple of ‘John Doe’ suits swinging in the breeze should anyone else dare step out of line. It is an outrage. Word on the street is the councillor has been gag ‘ordered’ in a settlement. If true, what could that councillor have to say that SREL is so afraid of?

    As for the current state of election affairs? We have
    Greg Knight who allege dly has a trail of deception, disregard for the government and the rules of building. Karen McGhee is, well you know. Councillor’s Don Furniss, Gault McTaggert and Ron Brent appear to be bought and paid for. Councillor Brent’s epic tantrums and disrespect for council and townspeople in open Council sessions are embarrassing and should not be tolerated. I mean slamming his hands on his desk, jumping up and storming into the gallery to sit with Karen McGhee and Frank (I wear tennis socks with a suit)Belerique from SREL? He should be kicked out. Maybe a month suspension without pay or benefits is what he needs.

    As for the frivolous and attention grabbing lawsuit launched by Councillor Brent against co-councillor Ruth Nishikowa? Who is the Bully now? Surely Ron Brent’s money can be better spent on his new found and well timed philanthropic work?

    The current rules tie the hands of mayors and councillors when it comes to known or suspected ‘conflict of interest’ of one or more co-councillors. The public must file the complaint and at their expense and court costs. Crazy right? Time for that to change. Because if this not ‘conflict’, what is? Team Probity? Slate? Don’t make me type it again… my stomach begins to turn.

    Google the meaning of ‘Public Servants’ boys. I assure you it does not mean ‘Self Serving’ or ‘Actively representing the interest of a private developer’.

    Thankfully we currently have a Mayor who is attempting to look out for the people of Muskoka Lakes and Bala. ‘Slate’ clowns with sell us up the River – so to speak.

  21. Ellen • October 5, 2014 @ 8:20 PM

    Last comment shows how confused people are. It’s ‘NOT a done deal” is the banner people FIGHTING the plant are using. It is not a tagline or ‘brand’ to support the project. Also surprised by people here cheering on Alice when just recently (Oct 27 All Candidates) she refused to put up her hand to say whether the hydro plant could be stopped saying it was too complicated to answer yes or no. I agree. It takes more thinking than that. And a bit of willingness to extend a hand.

  22. Imelda • October 5, 2014 @ 10:36 PM

    Well stated totally agree

  23. Imelda • October 5, 2014 @ 10:39 PM

    Lake Muskoka parent kudos

  24. Muskoka Parent • October 6, 2014 @ 3:02 AM

    Ellen at 8:20 pm. You are correct, the people fighting the project say it is ‘NOT Done Deal’. However Swift River and supporters of, have been saying “It is a done deal”, ever since people demanded answers from the past council many years ago.

    The issue is not complicated. I can only assume Mayor Murphy’s ‘refusal’ as you put it to say yes or no, may be because she is being sued Swift River Energy? Also, how can we expect anyone else in that position to answer yes or no to that? The question was ridiculous.

    Did you, like most, find it interesting how how the Chamber decided which questions were ‘appropriate?’ And more interesting is they would not allow other questions about the project nor allow questions from the floor? I have never seen that before.

  25. Jeff Mole • October 7, 2014 @ 9:43 AM

    Re: Imelda on October 5, 2014 4:23 PM
    There are other candidates myself included that will protect the interest of Muskoka Lakes in this matter.

    It is NOT a “done deal” and I have drafted a letter to the Premier that I will bring to council when I am elected. see: votemole.ca/challenge

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