Residents want idyllic setting – not hydro project

SEVERN TOWNSHIP, ONTARIO - On a crisp March morning on Claire Island, the nuthatches are peeping, mourning doves are cooing, and a pileated woodpecker is drumming.

In the background, there is the murmuring rush of falling water.

"It's melodic," said Dian Smith, who lives on the island of 22 homes and cottages just below Wasdell Falls on the Severn River.

But Smith is concerned a power plant proposed for the falls will create an industrial hum that will drown out the natural sounds of the river and woods.

"We live here because of the serenity, the beauty, the peace and quiet," said Smith, a 10-year resident of the boat-shaped island reached by a bridge little bigger than a gangway.

"A generator is not a quiet thing."

In addition to possible noise, Smith is concerned a power generator will be an eyesore.

"The falls are beautiful. That's why we moved here from Toronto 10 years ago - to get away from the noise and smell and controversy of the city."

Smith is one of a group of residents in the northeast corner of Severn Township uncomfortable with the hydroelectric facility being proposed by a private consortium called the Wasdell Falls Waterpower Project.

Tami Sugarman, environmental assessment co-ordinator for the project, said every effort will be made to minimize the impact on the community that lives near the falls.

The power plant will not drown out all other sounds, she said: "I don't assume it will be any noisier than the falls themselves."

The plant, currently undergoing a Category B environmental screening under the Environmental Act, will be designed to have as little visual impact as possible, added Sugarman.

She noted the property, which will be leased from the Ministry of Natural Resources, will have security fencing and lighting.

Island resident Steven Pritchard, who kayaks on the river, said his main concern is the proposed power plant's impact on water levels.

If the proposal is approved, the Wasdell Falls Waterpower corporation would take over operation of the dam, but water levels would not fluctuate more than they do now, said Sugarman.

"We're not allowed to change how the dam operates. We can't change the water levels or alter the rule curve (the regulated highs and lows)."

The volume of water flowing directly over the dam will be reduced when the generators are operating because much of that water will be directed through intake pipes into the power house.

The company will do studies to determine if cutting back the flow over the dam will have any negative impact on fish or other species in the 100-metre stretch downstream that will be affected, said Sugarman.

The project is a response to a provincial initiative to create more sources of renewable energy.

The province is guaranteeing the company 11 cents per kilowatt, twice the price residential consumers now pay for electricity in a partially regulated system.

The plant will be capable of generating 1.5 to two megawatts of power, enough to supply between 500 and 1,000 homes.


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