A company that was charged with a total of $65,000 in potential fines this week says they haven’t broken any rules.

Swift River Energy Limited is responding to the Township of Muskoka Lakes filing 13 charges of breaching the noise and construction bylaws of the municipality. Each charge was filed through the provincial offences court that could result in a $5000 fine for each occurrence.

Nhung Nguyen, Vice President of Swift River Energy Ltd. sent a statement and spoke with MyMuskokaNow.com saying that based on a previous agreement with the township they believe they did not break any rules.

Work stopped early at the Bala Falls Hydro project on Wednesday evening. A number of residents were on hand asking for the work to stop. (Chris Zavitz Photo)

And, now as a result of stopping work at midnight last night, they may have to work through the Christmas holidays rather than take a break.

She provided an excerpt of those regulations.

“Despite the provisions of the Noise By-law, during the term of the Lease, it is lawful for SREL, its employees, contractors, agents, heirs, legal representatives, successors and permitted assigns to emit or cause or permit the emission of noise in connection with:

a)         the 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week, operation of electric portable water pumps; and
b)         the operation of construction equipment.”

Nguyen says if you read the passage it is clear the company has the right to work extended hours.

Mayor for Muskoka Lakes, Phil Harding disagrees.

He says that was written through the need of having water removal operations pure and simple. Allowing all other forms of construction equipment to be used after hours was not the intent and he says ultimately a judge will have to decide.

“In our agreement to lease the land contemplated them having to run pumps for de-watering,” explains Harding, who was previously a councillor when the agreement was created. “That was the only construction activity that we were going to allow throughout the evening, was de-watering pumps. And construction equipment related to de-watering pumps would be included in that.”

Nguyen says the interpretation is plain to see and will be the basis for any court defense.

“It’s is lawful for Swift River to emit noise in connection with the 24-hours-a-day operation of construction equipment,” says Nguyen. “What we were trying to do last week was avoid word-smithing and interpretation and just say look, we recognize that working late is an inconvenience for everyone so let’s not spend time and money on lawyers. We wanted to pay a self-imposed fee, it would have been in the amount of $35,000. It would have gone to a good cause, it would have been a good end to the year.”

Nguyen contends the five hours of shift lost in the overnight hours into today may cause the work schedule to continue right through the holidays.

Nguyen was not on site last night but says a number of citizens were visiting the construction zone in the evening asking why the work would not stop.

Witnesses report the OPP were called and they spoke with a foreman on the site. Normally the OPP do not deal with local bylaw infringements. Following the conversation work ceased after 11:00pm.

“People came and requested that we stop, so we did stop and that was a reaction,” explains Nguyen.

Nguyen points to the company postponing lakebed excavations as early as July so that Cranberry Festival in October would not be affected as a display of the willingness to work with the township.

Harding says that was part of the lease agreement.

“No, it was contemplated within the lease agreement and then if they choose to operate during Cranberry Festival there are penalties,” he explains.

Swift River Energy is still targeting completion of the project for sometime in 2019.

The court date to hear the charges against Swift River, CRT and Swift River VP Frank Belerique is January 9th in Bracebridge.

The statement from Swift River Energy concludes with a message from the company urging both sides to work to a common goal.

“Our hope is that we will be able to continue the dialogue with the Township and complete the project with minimum disruption for the community,” says the statement.