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Thousands in fines offered for OT work at Bala Falls

A construction company breaking bylaws in Muskoka Lakes may have to pay thousands in daily fines.

Councillors were informed of a proposal sent today by Swift River Energy Limited, the company building the Bala Falls Hydro project, that would see the company pay self-imposed fines that start at $1000 a day and increase daily to a maximum of $5000 when it works past 9:00pm.

The suggestion was that this would be in place only until December 23rd as the company is attempting to finish lake bed excavation.

CAO Steve MacDonald noted that Swift River had a temporary exemption to the bylaw but it was to allow water pumping operations to continue around the clock. He confirmed that any work being done beyond 9:00pm contravenes the existing bylaws.

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He reminded committee of the whole members that currently the daily maximum fine in the town’s bylaws was set at $150 and an amendment or a new bylaw would have to be written.

Councillors felt this was the opening round of a negotiation and that fines with more financial bite should be implemented.

A presentation by longtime project opponent Mitchell Shnier asked the committee to consider enforcing bylaws that were being ignored by Swift River which in the past few days has seen construction being done well past the 9:00pm, with three shifts per day. 

Councillor Frank Jaglowitz suggested that the daily fine be set at $10,000 per day, but then opted instead for an injunction, blocking the after-hours work completely. He said that was the more important message to send.

Mayor Phil Harding spoke about the issue, noting he was not happy about what was happening, but saying any type of delay imposed on the company would simply lengthen the discomfort residents were feeling.

“The faster they can get out of there is I think a benefit to the community,” said Harding. “But what I do realize and what our CAO said, we shut them down, say stop, cease and desist and they keep operating, we get $150 a day.”

Harding went on to say that any type of fine that was implemented would be earmarked for use on special projects for the community in Bala.

“A penalty of $5000 a day is significant and we can write it absolutely no construction through Christmas holidays, whatever time frame we want done,” he offered. “Our entire lease (with Swift Energy) is just $5,000 per month.”

Vice President of Development at Swift Energy, Nhung Nguyen said in a response to My Muskoka Now news inquiry that the aim is to finish work as quickly as possible.

“We are working extended hours to complete the lake bed excavation before Christmas so that the town can enjoy a quiet holiday,” writes Nguyen.  “Overall, it’s in the community and everyone’s best interest that we finish the project sooner rather than later.”

Councillor Peter Kelly felt that writing one bylaw to replace a previous bylaw was ineffective, asking rhetorically, “unless we can add, this time we really, really mean it.”

Other items were requested to be added to the new bylaw that will be dealt with at the regular council meeting tomorrow.  These include getting pedestrian access across the bridge restored. Currently, there are just two live lanes of traffic, making walking across the bridge hazardous.

The committee also wants a town parking lot that has been turned into a heavy machinery repair zone by Swift Energy cleared out or face a $100 per day fine.

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