Riverside Park Ann Arbor Michigan
Riverside Park Ann Arbor Michigan

To the people of Mississippi Mills and Almonte,

 I am not a resident of your community, not even of your province or nation. I live over west in Michigan, and purport no rightful voice in your affairs. Still, I’ve been watching as issues have unfolded around the proposed dam project, and humbly seek the opportunity to share an outsider’s perspective.

 Dams and hydropower certainly have their place – heaven knows we have our share of them over here. Over the last two centuries we have dominated virtually every one our watersheds, and although they all seemed like good ideas at the time, we are finally returning to rethink their true value.

 Over the past 15 years we have begun to remove many of our dams to restore more natural flow. In my own town of Ann Arbor it proved unfeasible to remove one major dam, and we were left with the choices of restoring hydroelectric function, or improving the millrace which ran above it (remarkably similar to your arrangement) to partially restore more natural flow.

Fortunately we chose the latter, and the social and economic returns have far surpassed anyone’s expectations. Our improvements focused on recreational use, for boaters and fishermen in the water as well as paths for walking and cycling around it. What was but a forgotten little pond just a few years back has been transformed in to a vibrant center of the community, packed with residents and visitors from around the region (I’ve met at least a few there coming from Ontario).

This is the true value of our river that we failed to fully realize for so long. Similar stories are recurring with great enthusiasm all around our state at an ever-increasing rate. No community which has chosen to restore or preserve its natural and historic features has looked back to regret it. Unfortunately the same cannot always be said where river obstructions have been augmented or increased.

Sure there is value in hydroelectric power, but who is the major beneficiary of this value? Though it appears Enerdu has yet to see profit from the existing station, with the help of public subsidies they may yet see a profit from the new one (albeit at further public expense). Better flow regulation may hold value if used wisely, but Enerdu has already boasted their intentions to regulate output based on energy market price fluctuations. Does this bolster confidence that environmental and community interests will be the primary guides in their handling of this responsibility?

Enerdu may own riparian rights to the riverbed, but the river itself still belongs to the public. Protecting and utilizing the true value of your river for the rightful public good is a perishable opportunity, and I hope you have the good foresight and will to protect it before it’s too late.

It is rare that I would even consider urging you in Ontario to look to Michigan as an example, but I beg that you at least look to learn from our mistakes, and perhaps witness the benefits we are beginning to realize as we take them back. We’ve been to this movie before, and it pains me to think that a land we admire and envy so much as yours may have to go through the same scenes we’ve come to regret.

 A concerned neighbor,

David Collins
Ann Arbor, Michigan