MUSKOKA LAKES - Margaret Burgess Park may be spared as Muskoka Lakes council has agreed to re-open negotiations with the company charged with building the Bala Falls hydroelectric plant
Muskoka Lakes council defeated a resolution at its April 21 committee of the whole meeting by a 5-4 vote that would have allowed Swift River Energy Ltd. to lease township property for the construction of the proposed hydroelectric plant at the Bala Falls.
With that, SREL said it would have no choice but to use Margaret Burgess Park, located on Crown land adjacent to the project land, as a staging area during construction.
However, according to Mayor Don Furniss at a committee of the whole meeting this past Tuesday, a resolution from the committee minutes was brought forward to council on May 15. That resolution was moved by Coun. Jean-Ann Baranik and seconded by Coun. Terry Ledger and passed.
The resolution, Furniss said, was the township would agree in principle to accept the SREL offer, which would have the company lease township lands for staging for $125,000, along with other incentives.
“Every motion before the committee of the whole comes back to council for ratification,” he explained for the decision coming back to council. “So the motion that came back, the defeated motion, council decided to amend that motion and have another vote on it.”
During negotiations with the project working group this spring, SREL modified its offer to exclude the township portion of the Shield lot, while increasing its financial offer.
Swift River, in what had been called its final deal, would pay $125,000 for the use of the lands for 24 months, and late payments of $5,200 per month payable if SREL were delayed past 24 months.
The company would also pay $5,000 for every year that SREL uses the Shield Parking Lot during the Cranberry Festival.
Furniss said the new motion originally sought more money from Swift River.
“That motion that came back was increasing the amount of money that we would request of Swift River, and council decided not to do that, and keep it at the $125,000. It was passed by council,” he said.
The dollar amount of the increase made for some heated discussion at Tuesday’s committee meeting.
The figure that the township was believed to be asking from SREL was $150,000 and Coun. Ruth-Ellen Nishikawa wanted to know who had decided on the amount.
Interim chief administrative officer Clayton Harris told the councillor there were discussions “in the office,” what a counter-offer might be.
The answer did not satisfy Nishikawa.
“Apparently I need to be very clear … who decided to bring forward $150,000?”
Furniss interjected, saying that the offer was actually $150,000 minimum from SREL. “It could have been a sliding scale above that … it was just an offer to negotiate and put in a marker as an amount to start from,” he said.
Coun. Phil Harding questioned who was involved and when the discussions about bringing forward the $150,000 request to council occurred.
“Who had the discussion with yourself?” he asked Harris. “Was it just yourself, the clerk, and the mayor in advance of the (May 15)?”
Clerk Cheryl Mortimer said she didn’t have the documentation in front of her, but she believed she drafted the resolution the night before the May 15 meeting.
Harding said that would conflict with what he had been told, that two councillors had said they had decided that morning to put a different offer on the table.
“That is what I am trying to understand, the discussions that went on prior to the resolution,” he said, then muttered the word “transparency.”
“It was draft wording,” Mortimer responded. “It was up to councillors if they wanted to put it on the table or not … it was something to counter-offer.”
“But how did they know about it?” Harding asked before committee chair Ledger moved the meeting along.
“When asked what changed between the committee of the whole meeting and the May 15 council meeting to change the outcome, Furniss said instances like this “happen regularly.”
“It happens all the time, from the time it is discussed in committee and it gets back onto the council table, they change … (people) change their opinions, they get additional information, they have discussions with participants. That is why you leave a month or three weeks between (meetings) so you can consider other options.”
Funiss said that the township has only agreed to accept the SREL offer in principle, with more discussions needed with the company before a deal is finalized.
“There are discussions on what exactly the form the lease is going to take, and the preservation of heritage attributes, and all of that type of stuff. It is not a done deal yet,” he said. “We have to talk to Swift River and work out the lease arrangements, then come back to council.”