Points to ponder

Dear sir:
Re: “From the Publisher’s Pen” of Aug. 23, 2006 (Why can’t we generate energy?).
Your article touches on matters the resolution of which I believe will have very significant and long-term ramifications for Rainy River District. It is because of my concern for the district, and my on-going attachment, use, and research related to it, that I wish to respond to some of the points made.
Regarding the E.W. Backus power dam which runs between the two towns and whose power generation is owned outright by Boise Cascade and Abitibi-Consolidated Ltds., I agree there should be a careful re-examination of the power capacity of that facility.
Moreover, no one can, I think, reasonably disagree the genesis of the dam (i.e., the 1905 agreement between Backus and the governments), launched the district into an era of industrialization from which we all are still benefiting.
That said, now that the dam structure is approaching 100 years of age, and, therefore, undoubtedly will need refurbishment and some kind of redevelopment, surely it is in the best interests of all concerned that the terms of the 1905 agreement be re-visited and improved where possible.
And, although this is not the only matter of importance, I note in Clause 14 (a) of the original agreement that the Canadian federal and provincial governments reserved the right “. . . to construct, maintain, or repair any canal, lock . . . or works.”
Hence the question as to whether or not the historic Fort Frances canal can, in some way, be modified, preserved, and or exploited for transportation, tourism, and or other commercial purposes, I suggest, also should be included in those deliberations and negotiations.
Regarding the Namakan region, I also agree that there is some potential for small scale, sustainable hydro generation, particularly at Kettle Falls, but I wish to add a strong caution that this should not proceed before the “whole picture” is looked at.
Or, to use the terminology of the Ontario MNR planners, that the “Maximum Net Benefit to Society” of the numerous and interlinked projects and options contemplated be carefully evaluated.
Based on my reading of the district-wide survey done by the McGuinty government, and their potential licensees, I have a deep concern that this has not yet happened. Rather, what I see is a list of the raw hydro potential of falls, rapids, and other less traditional types of sites in the watershed without consideration of the cultural, ecological, historical, recreational, and other economic values (and costs) present.
Also I would like to add that the Namakan region is, in my view, to a large degree “Northwestern Ontario’s Forgotten South.” In my trips to the region, I have been struck by how few Canadians use the area and, conversely, that it is somewhat heavily used by Americans—the vast majority of whom cross into the region from the well-developed and fairly prosperous access points at Crane Lake and Ely, Mn.
What I have come to understand is that ever since river-based logging ended, local residents, and their politicians, to a large degree have turned their back on the region, except perhaps to truck out wood fibre.
My point can be illustrated by a question: how many local residents have travelled from Rainy Lake by boat, canoe, or other mode of transport to the area above Kettle Falls? Or, for that matter, who has driven in?
And, who has been down and/or fished on the utterly beautiful, “world-class,” and—to the nuanced eye—comparatively rare rivers there, the Maligne, Namakan, and Quetico?
Everyone knows that Northwestern Ontario has a lot (understatement) of lakes, but who know about the rivers, especially the non-dammed ones? The rivers mentioned above, along with others, such as the Turtle and Mercutio, contain a large amount of untapped economic potential, but not just the hydro and wood fibre varieties.
Another question: Many readers will know that the stately Banff Springs Hotel is situated on the Bow River next to a picturesque waterfalls—a falls whose appearance is not unlike High Falls on the Namakan River.
Would tourists be as keen to visit and use the Bow River and the falls adjacent to the Banff hotel if they were dammed? Will they go to the Namakan River valley corridor if High Falls (and other sections of the river) are blocked up? Perhaps no.
Of course, the interests of the First Nations and other permanent residents adjacent to areas contemplated for the developments planned must be placed as paramount. In fact, though, I suggest this is the key to the way forward.
Careful and transparent assessment and review of the many hydro options and other possible economic developments across the watershed will, I think, show that no one really has to lose out, but that the north will have to try to assert itself over the interests of southern Ontario and other areas.
Stephen Challis
Winnipeg, Man.