by Edith Cody-Rice
The Enerdu construction site was silent tonight as Council considered its request for a noise bylaw exemption. For the past several weeks, Enerdu workers have been working from earlier than 7 am. to late into the evening, sometimes past midnight. Residents adjoining the project have complained of lack of sleep, and a significant interruption of their quiet enjoyment of their premises.
Last week Council considered an emergency application from Enerdu for an exemption from the noise bylaw until March 15, but no one was present to explain the request and answer questions. At that meeting, Council instructed Enerdu to consult with affected residents and attempt to come to some accommodation. Enerdu informed Council by letter towards the end of the week that it did not intend to consult with residents. Tonight, a number of those residents attended the Council meeting and were allowed to speak and ask questions. Councillors also received correspondence from affected residents complaining of the noise and lights at the construction site.
Tonight Project Manager Ron Campbell attended to explain Enerdu’s request and to answer queries. He began his presentation by stating that Enerdu would stop work at 7 pm (the current bylaw provision) if that is what the community wants. If an exemption is granted, he indicated that the base of the power house could be completed by March 15 when the construction materials must be removed from the site to accommodate fish spawning. Then, starting July 1, Enerdu could start construction on the upper part of building. If no exemption is granted, then construction materials will need to be replaced in the water on July 1 and heavy and noisy construction will continue through the summer. He added that if town residents have concerns about the ecology of the river, he thought that they would want the material out of the water as early as possible. He also thought that residents would prefer an elevated noise level beyond normal hours at this season when window are closed, rather than all through the summer. He did acknowledge that there is no guarantee that an exemption would eliminate heavy construction in the summer.
Mr. Campbell acknowledged that even if Enerdu abides by the noise bylaw, lights would continue to shine overnight as they are needed to monitor the pumps and for site security. Residents have complained about bright light shining in their windows all night long. He stated that shields have been placed on all of the lights except one which is too hot for shields.He added that signals on machinery have been adjusted to blend in better with ambient noise.
Asked about projected work on the Old Town Hall side of the river, Mr. Campbell stated that the river is shallow there and work there could wait until August and be completed quickly. Enerdu will apply for permission to access that side of the river through the parking lot adjacent to the Old Town Hall. He said that work at the Thoburn Mill would proceed at the same time, a surprise to residents of the mill present in the Council Chamber.
Mr. Campbell wanted to clarify that the cost of operating now is much more expensive than it would be in the summer, to counter the perception that Enerdu is rushing ahead to save money. He added that the project is actually ahead of schedule as the very low water levels last summer permitted work to proceed with one cofferdam instead of two and allowed it to remain in the water longer. That meant that Enerdu got an early start on the power house.
Several residents, as well as Councillors Jane Torrance and Jill McCubbin, made the point that the bylaw exists to protect the citizens of Mississippi Mills and they are entitled to depend on that protection. The environmental issue is now the responsibility of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry which approved the project, knowing that it would cause disturbances.
Councillor Gillis proposed that Enerdu be granted an exemption to the bylaw to permit it to work until 9:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 9 am. to 7 pm on Sundays. Both that motion and the more general motion to permit a noise bylaw exemption were defeated in a tie vote. Councillors Ferguson, Gillis, Waters and Wilkinson voted to allow an exemption while Councillors McCubbin, Pulker-Mok, Torrance, and Mayor Shaun McLaughlin voted against the exemption. Councillors Abbott, Edwards and Lowry did not attend the meeting.