by Brent Eades

As reported in the Millstone, the controversial Enerdu hydroelectric project was given a tentative go-ahead by Ontario environment minister Jim Bradley last November. Despite concerted and wide-spread opposition to the plan, Bradley largely dismissed our community’s many concerns about the damage Enerdu might do to tourism, the environment, and Almonte’s fundamental heritage character.

But Bradley did order Enerdu to “complete a Heritage Impact Assessment which is to be provided to the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport for its review and comment.” A draft version of that assessment is now available, and will be presented to the community at a meeting next Tuesday, May 27, at 7 p.m.

The assessment was written by the Ottawa-based heritage consulting firm Contentworks, and was commissioned by the BluMetric/WESA company, whose business is the “design, construction and operation of hydroelectric power generating facilities… our approvals group guides each project through the environmental assessment and regulatory approvals process.”

BluMetric has represented Enerdu from the start, and would presumably build the proposed powerhouse and weirs should the project ever go ahead.

What it says

The assessment begins promisingly enough. It presents an extensive — often interesting — history of the current Enerdu building and nearby structures, and notes that a section of the building was converted to a small-scale hydro plant sometime in the 1980s. (This is the low concrete wall in the photo below, Figure 1, which was built roughly over the footprint of a flume which had existed for many decades prior, Figure 2.)

Figure 1: Current powerhouse
Figure 1: Current powerhouse
Figure 2: Enerdu building circa 1915.
Figure 2: Enerdu building circa 1915.

The report then makes clear that the current riverscape in Almonte is very significant indeed to local residents:

The importance of the Mississippi River as a scenic cultural resource was 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.

The report then veers off in an odd direction. First, it tells us that views largely unchanged for a century will be gone:

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…

The Enerdu Project will change the view from across the river…

The Enerdu Project will change the view of the Bridge Falls – the intake canal weir will become a more prominent feature within the view and part of area where the falls currently flow will be consumed by the headpond.

Concrete will become a more visible component in the landscape.

But then it tells us not to worry, because:

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

This, frankly, is a perplexing conclusion.

Yes, Almonte and other local towns were built on the strength of the water that powered grist and sawmills, and later textile mills. Some of these did indeed change the look of our town — a hundred years ago or more.

In the past several decades we have flourished because people move here, and visit here and spend their tourist dollars here, because they want to savour a town like ours. A town that values and protects a one-of-a-kind heritage landscape — a view of life as it used to be here in Canada long ago, still protected and preserved.

Enerdu proposes to gut this. They want to build a massive 5,000 square-foot hydro plant in the heart of this landscape, and to dredge and perhaps blast the riverbed around it. All to ship profits out of our town, to benefit a company that has no roots here.

How can this be acceptable?