Enerdu flashboards on the Mississippi River at Almonte
Enerdu flashboards on the Mississippi River at Almonte

There has been rampant misinformation floating around about Enerdu’s proposed new generating station and its potential effect on the river. Through my past experience as a Director on the Board of the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority (4 years), Board Member on the Mississippi River Improvement Company (20 years), and Commissioner on the Almonte Public Utilities Commission (30 years), the Mississippi River is no stranger to me.

A quick look at Almonte’s history will tell you that waterpower was the most significant factor in the development of this town. Without waterpower, our town would not exist. That first grist mill built by David Shepherd nearly two centuries ago, and every mill, generating station, residence, retaining wall or other building built along the river since, has changed its landscape. Enerdu’s proposed station is no different. It’s foolish to think that the river will remain in its present state for generations. Changes will be made in it and along its banks. Each change becomes part of the new landscape and eventually the heritage of our town. Without these changes, Almonte would not exist, grow and thrive.

Because of the many projects like Enerdu’s in this province over the past decade, we’ve been able to shut down all coal-fired generating stations, the last two of which were shut down late last year. Coal-fired generation by the way, was Ontario’s number one polluter and the Nanticoke station, here in Ontario, was Canada’s number one source of air pollution before it was shut down at the end of last year.

Small hydro projects, like ENERDU’s are among the least destructive and most efficient sources of energy you will find. Power from the water is what built this town and Province. From waterwheels used to drive line shafts in the early mills of Almonte, to the first hydroelectric station, built over 130 years ago on the middle falls, all of these mills and generating stations changed the riverbed and flows of the river in some way, to get water into their structures.

There have been suggestions that the building will be an eyesore when completed. The old flour mill was a rundown abandoned building only a few decades ago. Improvements have been made and Mr. Cavanagh has gone to considerable expense improving and beautifying the building and site, now housing state of the art condos. With that kind of financial commitment, we can be assured that the same care will be put into the design of the new generating station. Now, with a highly regarded heritage architect on board and the establishment of the design advisory committee, this should not be a concern for anyone.

There has been talk of the falls drying up once the new station is built. This is simply not true. Numerous agencies, including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority, as well as the Mississippi Water Management Plan, would never allow that to happen. A minimum flow over the weir will be required.

There are many advantages to having a newly built adjustable weir on the upper falls, which is why we looked at doing it ourselves when I was on the Public Utilities Commission in the mid-90’s. Among the advantages are:

–          A nicer looking top to the upper falls. At the present time, in the summer tourist season, the plywood boards are completely visible and the only water cascading over the upper falls comes from leakage through, not over, those boards. A condition of the construction of the new weir would be to have a minimum set flow over the weir at all times. As a result, the weir will not be as visible as the boards are now since the constant water flow over it will obstruct view of it.

–          Ability to manage high flows. From my understanding, the new weir will be able to go from fully upright, to lying flat in a very short amount of time, without the need for anyone to be in the river, which can be extremely dangerous. This would be especially helpful in times where sudden flow increases happen (winter ice-jams, ever-increasing extreme summer rainfall events, etc) in helping to alleviate upstream flooding.

–           Fewer shutdowns for Mississippi River Power Corporation’s station. The weir would eliminate many of the frazil ice problems and associated costs that MRPC deals with most winters. During my time as a Commissioner on the Almonte Public Utilities Commission we tried various methods to alleviate the frazil ice problem, including an ice boom, with little to no effect. There have been a few winters over the years where there has been a substantial reduction in frazil ice. The primary reason each time was that we were lucky enough to have the river above Enerdu freeze over.  An adjustable weir would allow the opportunity to do that on a far more consistent basis.

–          Summer recreational activities. If the dam continues to deteriorate and no one is willing to fix it, or if the boards were no longer installed, boating and swimming in the upper river would suffer greatly. The river is so shallow at many points, that without the benefit of the boards/weir you’d have a far easier time walking across the river than swimming across it.

The final issue I’d like to address is the Appleton Wetlands. Some are claiming that the new weir will raise water levels in the upper river. This is not true. A quick read through the Enerdu proposal documents will tell you that the weir will be placed in the same spot as the existing boards and they are seeking no increase in the upper water level allowances stated in the Mississippi River Water Management Plan. The experts at MNR have studied the issue and have not come to the conclusion that the boards are killing the wetlands. If however, they do reach that conclusion at some point, then the highest water level that Enerdu will be allowed to operate at will be lowered in the Water Management Plan. They will be forced to comply with the revised upper limit – something that could be easily done with an adjustable weir.

In summary, will this project result in a change to the river as we know it? Yes, but it’s certainly not the first change Almonte has seen over the past 200 years or so and it certainly won’t be the last. Will it be an ugly eye-sore that drives tourists away? Not a chance.

Sincerely,

Bill Gomme