A lively capacity crowd of local residents filled to capacity the Almonte Old Town Hll on Wednesday April 11 to hear about the Enerdu dam project. The room will hold only 229 people and when the room was filled a huge number of people were turned away. The line stretched down the stairs to the main floor. This meeting was organized by local citizens, not by Enerdu, which believed it had done its legal duty by holding two "public" meetings for selected residents who might have an interest in the project, such as riparian owners. RIparian owners are those whose property abuts the river.Enerdu's last meeting attracted approximately 50 people.
David Baril and Mary Rozenberg were the facilitators at the Old Town Hall and sensing the mood of the crowd were careful to skilfully set ground rules which kept the meeting restrained and under control. This was not to be a rant session or a complaints meeting. This was a meeting to allow Enerdu to present its project at the Number 1 falls (the falls above the railway bridge) to the populace and to allow other interested parties to express their views.
The facilitators commenced the evening by asking if anyone was present to speak for the municipality or for the Ministry of Natural Resources. No hands went up although it later turned out that Mayor John Levi and at least three other councillors were present. Asked why no one offered to speak for the municipality, Mayor Levi later said that the council has no say in this except to comment on aesthetics..
In attendance for Enerdu were Ron Campbell, the project manager and Tami Sugarman,the expert hired for the environmental study required by law. Paul Lehman represented the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority.
To be clear, the project is the brainchild of Jeff Cavanagh, son of the owner of Cavanagh Construction, Tom Cavanagh. Cavanagh Construction does not itself own Enerdu although Ron Campbell, the leader of the project self identified as a Cavanagh Construction employee and Cavanagh Construction will carry out the work of the project. Campbell drew a chuckle from the crowd when he said that Cavanagh Construction would carry out the work and then corrected himself to say that Cavanagh "hoped" to complete the work, implying that theoretically, there would be an open bidding process.
The visuals projected on a screen overhead were a rather sketchy concept drawing that showed the position of the proposed dam and the generator building, which will be separate from the current flour mill building, but there was no indication of dam or building heights, or materials to be used. He stated that the power generated would be provided to the Ontario grid over a 20 year period and that only towards the end of that agreement would Jeff Cavanagh realize any profit. An astute audience member asked why, if this was the case, was the project going ahead. Campbell answered that it had been a dream of Cavanagh's since he participated in a water wheel project in grade 5 to generate hydro from water power. When the Enerdu generation facility was put on the market by former owner Mike Dupuis, Cavanagh realized that this was within his budget and bought it. The explanation created the impression that this personal dream of Jeff Cavanagh's is resulting an unnecessary project which will result in benefits to him alone.
Campbell laid out a history of the Enerdu flour mill stating that it has been in production since the 1840's and that the current summer flashboard structure has been in place since the late 1800's. He stated that the project will take 5-7 months to complete, with hoe ramming at the head of the falls to deepen the river occuring during a period of 5-7 weeks in the summer, which is the low water period for the river. He argued that the completion of the outside of the flour mill has made it significantly better than it was before and that Cavanagh's willingness to spend 5.5 million dollars on the project ensures that the new generator building will look as though it belonged. He stated that the building would be faced in stone and as low in the river as possible, however, he backtracked somewhat by acknowledging that as Jeff Cavanagh is paying the bill, he will decide on the cladding material. The weir will be consist an Obermeyer bladder, a top end product for dams, supported by a stainless steel piece of metal. The bladder will expand and contract to hold back water or allow it to flow. Here is the Obermeyer explanation of its product. http://www.obermeyerhydro.com/sites/default/files/brochure.pdf.
Campbell tried to reassure the crowd that the falls would be there as they were before. Campbell stated that the plant is currently losing money because everything has to be done manually and that Cavanagh purchased the plant with the intention of increasing power Generation. He showed photos of an Obermeyer bladder in operation which featured waterfalls over a dam.
Tami Sugarman advised that the project's environmental study was in the draft review period. The Ministry of Culture has no approval rights, she stated, but does approve the archeologists working on the project.
Under questioning from the audience, Campbell and Sugarman began to skate around issues. In response to the concern that buoys, large unsightly danger signs and chain link fencing would be necessary, Sugarman simply said that they were negotiating with Transport Canada and would not acknowledge the likelihood of these elements, although she did indicate that some safety features would be necessary. Other queries could not be answered because they questioned decisions made by engineers who were not present
Riparian owners in the room were visibly angry. Four riparian owners in the crowd indicated that they had received no notice of the project and as they do not get the EMC, they did not see any public notices in the newspapers. One resident owned two condos at the Thoburn Mill directly across from the location of the project. Sugarman apologized if people did not receive notices, but said that Enerdu had advertised in the newspapers, had held two public meetings and had done its due diligence, putting a notice of commencement of the project in local papers. The audience was not buying it. There was an atmosphere of mistrust. One participant told the Enerdu reps that they had lost her confidence, matters had been so badly handled to date. That seemed to sum up the feeling in the room. The situation was not helped by the inability of Enerdu reps to answer a questions, referring them to engineers and ministry officials who who were not present. As Al Potvin, pointed out, Campbell is managing the project and in his view should have the answers ready for the public.
The project did have its supporters in the room. Brian Gallagher, a long time and respected hydro employee described himself as among the 1% in the room who approved the project. He said that the project is good, not only for Cavanagh, but for the Mississippi Mills power generation. He also noted that the dam and bladder would be an aesthetic improvement on the flashboards currently put up during the summer. Enerdu and Mississippi River Power Corporation, which runs the Brian Gallagher Generating Station at the foot of the falls, will have a two way communication system set up to coordinate activities.
Paul Lehman of the Mississiippi Vally Conservation Authority (MVCA) indicated that the MVCA plays a minor role in this project. It enforces regulations and reviews the initial plans from that perspective only.
Daniel Coates stated from the audience that this is a radical change to the river and aquatics biologist Joachim Moenig, who worked 37 years with Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada expressed grave concerns about the environmental damage that will result from the project.
At the conclusion of Enerdu's presentation, Cathy Blake, Pat Vetter and Harold MacKay stood to make their presentations. Cathy Blake focussed on the unsightly fences, sign and buoys that surround the Appleton dam and which, she says, will be put up in Almonte and destroy the charm of the Mississippi River here.
Harold Mackay, a local real estate agent warned that property values would suffer if the project proceeds as the great charm of Almonte is the river and falls which will be aesthetically damaged by the project.
Pat Vetter, owner of the Menzies B&B just upriver from the project provided a passionate argument against the project, stating that it would damage an entire tourist season in Almonte and that it brought no benefit to the town.
An overriding concern of the audience was the perception that this is an unnecessary project being pursued to benefit one individual, Jeff Cavanagh, at the expense of the residents of the town of Almonte. Cavanagh's name came up repeatedly with the comment that he was "lining his pockets" at the expense of the town. The project is perceived to damage both the aesthetics of the falls and the environment and to destroy an entire season for businesses who depend on tourism to survive. Enerdu has a major public relations problem on its hands and will face an uphill battle to get residents on side; however, getting residents on side may not be its main concern. Currently, provided it passes the environmental test, the project may go ahead over local objections, but the image of both Jeff Cavanagh and Cavanagh Construction will suffer.
The meeting broke up just after 10 p.m.