Solar farm gets noise conditions before go-ahead

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

Fort Frances Town Council will be considering the finer details of a proposed solar farm and cryptocurrency-mining operation in the north end, as well as a potential cut to the speed limit on Scott Street.

Council will be sitting for a rare Tuesday meeting tonight following the Victoria Day long weekend, and one major item on the agenda pertains to the solar farm and cryptocurrency operation that is in the planning stages for the former Resolute lagoon property located in the north end of town along Eighth Street, McIrvine Road, and Cornwall Avenue North..

The proposal will see a 150-megawatt solar farm installed at the property, with an additional building made from converted sea-cans to house a cryptocurrency-mining operation. Mitch LePage, the manager for BMI Group, who filed a re-zoning request for the property to allow these additions, wrote in documents accompanying the request that the installation could create up to 70 jobs to operate the farm, with many more created during the construction phase of the project. The cryptocurrency farm will aim to have 50,000 devices running at the same time, and requires one technician for every 2,000 to 3,000 devices.

The project has come before council previously, most recently during the April 11, 2022, meeting, where members of the public voiced some concerns over what will be done with the other parts of the lagoon property that still hold water and waste from the mill, as well as the potential disruptions that could be caused by the noise produced by a cryptocurrency farm that is located relatively close to residential properties. The noise levels expected from the farm weren’t confirmed at that meeting, and as noise drops off in volume over distance, a more accurate reading of the expected noises at set intervals was requested by council.

The item on tonight’s agenda notes that one of the requirements now included in the by-law are that “a noise mitigation study and noise mitigation plan among other potential studies for the development be required as part of the site plan control agreement.” Also required by the new by-law — should it be accepted by council — is that sea-cans used to construct the farm must not be stacked on top of each other, must be located no closer than 300 metres from any surrounding residential use or residential zoned property, and located no closer than 850 metres from McIrvine Road or Eighth Street West.

Also on tonight’s agenda is a letter from the Fort Frances Business Improvement Association (BIA) regarding the speed limit on Scott Street. According to the letter submitted to council by the BIA, they are requesting that the town look at implementing a reduced 40km/h speed limit on Scott Street due to several concerns they have heard from fellow business owners and shoppers. According to the letter, the BIA have heard complaints of excessive speed from vehicles on Scott Street, particularly in the downtown core. The complaints allege drivers are exceeding the posted speed limit, reporting close calls between vehicles, including large transport and logging trucks, and pedestrians, as well as concerning driving when drivers are forced to slam on their brakes as they realize they will not make the yellow light in time to cross. The BIA is arguing a reduced speed limit will not only keep individuals safe, but also save the town money.

“If granted, we feel that a lower speed limit not only would it make the downtown core a safer place for foot and vehicle traffic, but it would also help preserve our roadway from unnecessary erosion caused by the sudden stops the large vehicles make,” they wrote in their letter.

If accepted by council, the letter will be referred to the Operations and Facilities Executive Committee for a recommendation with input from the Traffic Safety Committee.

The BIA has also submitted a request for input on placing a Christmas tree in the Rainy Lake Square for the 2022 Christmas season, noting they would like to receive the municipal rules or by-laws “regarding the erecting and securing of the tree to stay within your set boundaries,” as well as to receive assistance from the town when it comes to preparing the designated site for the tree, should council grant the request.

Tonight’s meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the council chambers in the Fort Frances Civic Centre, with a link to the online Zoom meeting available on the town’s website.