by Trish Dyer
A local company is proposing to make major changes to the Mississippi River in downtown Almonte. Enerdu, a private company owned by local businessman Jeff Cavanagh, is seeking permission to create a head pond above the falls at Bridge Street by removing bedrock from the river bed and constructing a diversion dam across the river to hold back more water. Enerdu operates turbines at the base of the historic Maple Leaf Mill located directly across the river from the Barley Mow and sells hydro electricity to the province.
The plan would allow Enerdu to capture or hold back a greater volume of water and release it through their turbines at times of day when energy prices are highest. Because there is no way to store electricity, Ontario resets the price it will pay to private generating station operators like Enerdu every five minutes based on demand.
By converting the river above the falls into a headpond and diverting that water through an additional turbine, Enerdu expects to nearly double its capacity to produce power when prices are highest.
The concrete dam, according to OELSys geoscientist Tami Sugarman, who headed the team hired by Enerdu to produce the initial draft proposal, would be limited in height and include a remote controlled gate which could be opened to relieve water levels in the headpond.
Sugarman, who has been working on the proposal for a year, said the dredging or lowering of the river bed, which is bedrock, would be accomplished with hoe rams (vehicles equipped with jack hammers). Coffer or temporary dams would be erected across a portion of the river to expose the bedrock bottom and allow the hoe rams access.
The concrete or permanent dam would replace the ‘flashboards’ or sections of lumber installed and operated across the top of the falls by Enerdu on a seasonal basis. The flashboards are already the subject of major controversy and have been linked to increasing damage to the Mississippi River shoreline upstream as far as Appleton. (More about that later)
Hydro generating station operators in Ontario are subject to regulatory approvals from agencies ranging from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to the Missisissipi Valley Conservation Authority.
Before even beginning any application for permits, the federal government must be satisfied that the Enerdu proposal would not have a negative effect on fish and fish habitat. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources would have to be satisfied that it would have no negative effect on existing shoreline and rare or protected fish species. And the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority, the agency legally charged with day-to-day management, enforcement, approvals, permits would be forced to amend a Water Management Plan which took several years to develop.
The process begins with a draft proposal which is ‘tabled’ to those agencies for comment in the form of what Enerdu consultant Tami Sugarman calls a ‘Class Environmental Assessment’ proposal for water power projects. Input from the general public was solicited through an open meeting last month which was advertised in the local paper. Sugarman said property owners whom Enerdu deemed to be directly affected were contacted individually, though, tellingly, flashboard opponent Mike O’Malley who, with his wife, is Enerdu’s nearest neighbour, says he was not contacted. O’Malley and his wife Debby, were in the midst of supper when they got a call from a friend. “It was literally down forks and grab the car keys,” O’Malley said. “When we got there, we were told not being invited must have been an oversight on their part.”
O’Malley, who also owns a home in Appleton, flies small planes. During the summer of 2007, he began to notice changes along the 9 kilometre stretch of River between a small dam at Appleton and the Bridge Street Falls in Almonte. The shoreline in that section of river is known as the Appleton Wetlands. It is lined with soft red maples and a host of flora, fauna and insects unique enough to have been deemed worthy of special protection as an Area of Scientific and Natural Interest or ANSI by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.
From the air, O’Malley noted swaths of maples listing, toppling and dying and unusual blooms of algae. By 2008 the damage had spread. A treed island had completely disappeared, the configuration of the shoreline had changed, massive blooms of algae had appeared. O’Malley began photographing the changes, which continued to worsen until he felt he had persuasive evidence of the damage, which he was convinced was directly related to flooding caused by the installation of flashboards by Enerdu downstream.
Responding to concerns put forward by O’Malley and others, including Field Naturalists Club leader Cliff Bennett, the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority undertook a hydraulics study this fall. “Based on our analysis, the current configuration of (Enerdu) flashboards is raising water levels up through to the Appleton dam by 8” to 1 foot,” Paul Lehman, general manager of the Conservation Authority told The Millstone this week. However, while higher water levels caused by back-up created by Enerdu’s river wide flashboards are contributing to ongoing damage to the Appleton wetland, Lehman cautions against attributing all the damage to the flashboards.
The Authority has forwarded their report to the Ministry of Natural Resources with a request/recommendation that biologists and forestry management experts be brought in to conduct further studies. Shifts in precipitation – less snow and increasing amounts of rain during the fall and winter- are being noted in various parts of Ontario, for example.
Enerdu spokesman Ron Campbell was contacted by The Millstone but has not yet responded.Sugarman is aware of the controversy linking Enerdu’s flashboards to increased water levels and shoreline damage. However, she doesn’t believe it will affect the head pond slash diversion dam proposal.
“I see it as two different planning processes,” Sugarman said. “We’re not proposing to change water levels or the operating regime of the generating station. Enerdu is a run-of-the-river facility. That doesn’t change.” “If there are problems with the water management plan, with best management practices, then that would need to be addressed under the Water Management Plan. Enerdu operates within that plan.”
Local rumours suggesting that Enerdu’s plan has already been approved by any level of government- let alone three- are false. Suggestions that approval is a foregone conclusion or a mere formality or that work, if any, is scheduled to begin this summer are equally false.
(see Millstone story to follow Saturday March 17 entitled: “Objection”)
Photo: © Bob Wake 2011