The conclusions of the Enerdu Heritage Impact Assessment not supported by stated facts

by Robert Davison

Figure 1: Current powerhouse
Figure 1: Current powerhouse

I have reached the following conclusions regarding the HIA:

  • The analysis of ‘Heritage’ in the study is too narrow and, as such, permits a conclusion that would not be supported by a broader analysis.
  • The salient question that is affected by this narrowing of the analysis is the effect on the Mississippi River Cultural Landscape.
  • The study’s analysis, in respect to the Mississippi River Cultural Landscape, is not supported by the studies own stated facts.
  • If a broader analysis is performed then the proposed change to the weir mediated water flow, that will reduce or eliminate a portion of the Bridge Falls, is not acceptable.
Heritage Analysis – Mississippi River Cultural Landscape
I contend that the study has focused, in reaching its conclusion, on the heritage of Almonte and its relationship to the river as being industrial in nature and explicitly the industry of milling and, concomitantly, of power generation.  The ENERDU proposal is supported by reference to these activities:

“…The cultural landscape is dynamic and has already absorbed many changes; the Enerdu project will add another modern component in  the landscape that reduces the visibility of historic elements

The Enerdu Project is about power production, an activity that has been at the core of the community’s history since its founding.

The Enerdu Project will change the appearance of a key long- standing view up the river from the Number 2 falls and the Main Street Bridge, but the industrial and power development character will not change…” pg 21

My critique is that this definition of “industry” and its relationship to the heritage of the town, and hence to the river, as cultural landscape is too limited. The term “industry” does not mean just a given physical production structure of a chosen era but more broadly refers to the means by which a town (in this case) and its inhabitants enable prosperity. It may be a cotton mill but it also may be the selling of the natural beauty of a location to bring visitors and new residents.
The town of Almonte has consistently drawn its wealth from the river – in a very real sense the river is the “industry” of Almonte. First as a source of power for the mills and now as a draw for visitors and new residents with its beauty and its historic vistas.  The importance of the river as a shared resource of the town is basic to the heritage of the town. No one mill was able to monopolize the river’s flow – there were mills and other power driven industries on both banks of the river. Today there continues to be power generation but there is also tourism and recreation and both uses share the river.
The study contains ample support for this position:
“While the small island near the Bridge Falls has been changed by the construction of previous weirs, the railway bridge and a more recent pedestrian pathway, an archaeological assessment of the area provided no indication that the appearance of the Bridge Falls were altered by past works.”   pg 9

“… the community’s history, geography and artistic productions demonstrate that the Mississippi River is the geographic spine of the community. Many visitors and artists are attracted to Almonte to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Mississippi River, its structures and relics, and its waterfalls and rapids …” pg 14

“The river’s historical, social and cultural associations, as well as its influence on Almonte’s urban geography, bring it into the category of being a cultural heritage landscape.” pg 14

“The importance of the Mississippi River as a scenic cultural resource was also highlighted in the 2012 Cultural Mapping Study undertaken by the Town of Mississippi Mills. It identified many places to be of cultural or natural heritage value in Almonte, including:
  • Mississippi River
  • Waterfalls of the Mississippi River
  • Almonte’s Old town Hall
  • Views and vistas

In responding to questions about the places that they preferred to show visitors, residents put the Mississippi River, the waterfalls, Almonte’s downtown and heritage buildings located near the river at the top of the list. “ pg 14

“In the absence of a landscape description or statement of significance, the following set of features is proposed for the purposes of the HIA ……
Seasonal variations in the appearance of the river resulting from changes in water flow combined with the rock shelves that characterize most of the river from the upper pond to the bay.”  pg 1
Conclusions Not Supported by Stated Facts
As shown above, the study clearly states the current importance of the river to the ongoing prosperity of Almonte. The industry at the centre of the town is clearly not power generation.
If the analysis defines the industrial heritage in the context of the town then the justification for the ENERDU project falls away as it will clearly affect, in a negative manner, the draw of the river for visitors. A River Walk running past barren Bridge Falls is hardly a draw and it is exactly that stretch of the river that abuts a significant portion of the core of the town from the Old Town Hall to the Mississippi Iron Works (Barley Mow). The ENERDU proposal is for exclusive control of a stretch of the river, including changing the appearance of the Bridge Falls for the first time (hardly a heritage development), and not a proposal that recognizes the need to share the river for the overall industry of the town. This is not in keeping with the true heritage of the town that is that the river is the industry of the town to be shared by all in the town.
The maintenance of the history of the town such as the guarding of heritage buildings and vistas does not imply that the “industry” of that generation should continue to the detriment of the current “industry” of the town. Would the consultants seriously support a new coal fired power plant if the history was one of generation of power by coal? The fact that historically power generation from the river was the industry of the town need not dictate that it can be continued today without limit to the damage it may inflict on the town and its current industry.
For reasons that I cannot understand the study after taking a broader view of the Mississippi River Cultural Landscape then narrows its focus to the issue of 19th century industry and power generation – as if that were the sole heritage value of the river. I argue that the true heritage value is the rivers ongoing role as the industry of the town. And, in that light, the proposed changes to the Bridge Falls fail the heritage test and the should lead to a rejection of the ENERDU project as proposed.