Enerdu’s plan to construct a substantial new hydro project in the heart of Almonte is surely one of the most controversial and emotional issues to confront our community in many years.
Yet it may also be a catalyst for consensus about how Mississippi Mills envisions its future. Clearly great numbers of us agree on a future devoid of large-scale alterations to our heritage riverfront. We share with Terri Clarke “the sense of pride and civic ownership we feel every time we stroll along the river walk in town or enjoy the beautiful view of Mississippi River… this is our river.”
A similar sentiment is expressed in the Town’s own Official Plan, which makes clear that:
“The heritage resources of Mississippi Mills are a defining feature of the community. They contribute to the character, civic pride, tourism potential, economic development and historical appreciation of the rural and urban areas of the Town. Perhaps more than any other element of design, our heritage resources define what is unique and distinct about Mississippi Mills.”
The breadth and depth of community opposition to the current Enerdu plan has been substantial.
Of the over 4,100 people who have signed the Stop Enerdu petition, 1,772 are from Mississippi Mills, with 1,570 of those from Almonte itself.
(The 2011 census shows 3,775 voting-age residents in Almonte, meaning that potentially over 40% of voters have signed.)
Recent ‘open letters’ in the Millstone to the mayor and Enerdu have each been read by 2,000 people or more, and shared widely on social media.
As well, hundreds of people have turned out for town meetings, fundraisers and rallies. It is safe to say that opposition to Enerdu is not the work of “a group of special interest people”, as the mayor ill-advisedly claimed in an email to a local couple last week.
Despite the passionate opposition of much of the community, until recently it appeared there was no legal means of halting or delaying the Enerdu project. Town Council last year did all it could — it thought — when it made the Part II Order request to the province, which was largely denied.
But there is in fact a way. One beneficial outcome of the Enerdu controversy was the launch of a Heritage Conservation District study encompassing downtown and the waterfront — something that if done years ago would likely have stopped Enerdu’s current plan before it started.
And as reported recently, the same act that guides the creation of a heritage district also allows our Town Council to pass an interim bylaw banning major development or alterations in the heritage study area, which encompasses the Enerdu site.
Such a by-law need not, as one commenter here in the Millstone alleged, “freeze all development” in the area — instead, if clearly worded, it would only pertain to large-scale projects.
Compromise not off the table
Another important point: many of the most vocal critics of the Enerdu plan are not opposed to development of any kind on the riverfront — they are opposed to development on the vast scale currently proposed. Back in 2012 Al Seaman, in response to an email from Mayor Levi expressing his support for the plan, offered an alternative scenario, and one which we believe most citizens would consider a fair compromise:
To be truly green, the Enerdu upgrades should be limited to replacing turbines and generators in the existing power house with more efficient units, making minor improvements to water flow in the plant intake and tailrace, and a return to the summer water levels that existed prior to 2004. In short, the plant should return to being a true run-of-the-river plant. In particular there should be no new power house extending 15 metres into the river, no new dam, and no major excavation of the river bed.
I hope that you will see the long term benefits of reducing the scale of the Enerdu project and that you will support this alternate vision of the greening of the Mississippi.
By-law motion to be presented to Council on July 29
On July 29 a motion will be presented to Council asking it to pass a Heritage Act by-law preventing major development in the study area for one year. The Millstone believes passage of this by-law is the only responsible course for Council to take.
Given the wide-spread opposition to the Enerdu plan in its current form, and the imminent possibility of coffer dams and blasting in our river — maybe as soon as this fall — it’s imperative that we all take a deep breath, step back, and think hard about we can attain a future in which heritage and development can co-exist.
We urge all members of Council to take a leadership role on this profoundly important issue. A one-year moratorium is a fair and sensible compromise.