The provincial Ministry of Tourism, Culture & Sport has accepted, without change or comment, the Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) prepared by an Ottawa consulting firm acting on Enerdu’s behalf earlier this year. The assessment was ordered by then-environment minister Jim Bradley, in response to the Town’s request for a “Part II order” last year.
Although many key aspects of the assessment were recently refuted in a report submitted by our Town’s heritage committee, it appears the provincial government is satisfied with Enerdu’s claims that its proposed hydro project in the heart of Almonte will cause no particular harm to the heritage character of the town.
It also seems the HIA was not seen by the Ontario minister responsible for the heritage portfolio. The letter to Enerdu advising of the government’s sign-off was signed by Laura Hatcher, Team Lead (A) – Heritage Land Use Planning, rather than by the minister or some other senior bureaucrat.
None of this is especially surprising — we never assumed the assessment would be much more than a token gesture. But it’s still disappointing.
What is unclear is how binding the assessment will be on either Enerdu or the Town. The HIA stresses throughout what Enerdu should do, but we don’t know how much weight this really holds. For instance:
- All work should be conducted as expeditiously as possible to reduce the impact on tourism and on residents.
- Any staging areas and temporary access roads should be returned to their original states after construction and, whenever possible, improved.
- Prior to construction, the physical condition of the existing cultural landscape should be documented through photography for posterity and for future conservation decisions by the community.
Should Enerdu do these things, and the others in the assessment, or must they? That is not clear.