Figure 1: Current powerhouse
Figure 1: Current powerhouse

by Maureen Dagg

On Tuesday (August 12) afternoon, I was able to chat with Mr. Ron Campbell, who is the Project Manager for the Enerdu power project here in Almonte. I was able to ask him these simple questions:

1) Will the recreational use of the river be changed?

2) Will there be “Danger” signs everywhere and big colourful buoys or fences stretched across the river?

3) Will wildlife survive their journey through the plant?

His answers were as follows, with additional notes after:

1) NO: Recreational use of the river will not be changed at all.

2) NO: Any “Danger” signs would be limited to the roadside area, unless legislation forces them to be installed. There will be no buoys or fences across the river, but there likely will have to be buoys near the intake – this just makes sense, from a safety point of view. There will be no change to signage on the downstream side at all.

 3) YES: Fish generally have no issue with turbines. Eels, however, are another story. Due to this issue, there will have to be both downstream and upstream eel ladders, which are culvert-like structures that, due to the way the water flows through them, attract eels to follow them. Enerdu must work closely with MNR people and the Algonquins of Ontario to ensure that the eel population is not affected. There is a biologist studying the area currently, though they have not so far discovered any eels.

Ron Campbell is the Manager for a project which, to Jeff Cavanagh, is just one of many projects that he has on the go. Currently, Enerdu consultants field calls from people in the public because they are the experts.

He pointed out that he is a manager – he is not an environmental expert. Whenever a large corporation takes on a new project such as this one, they must rely on outside expertise, government agencies, and lawyers to provide them with critical information to do their work. They must trust the established agencies and their experts to give them what they need to be within the law, and to be environmentally conscientious.

For example, Ron pointed out that there will be absolutely no change to the status quo water level. This water level was established long before Jeff Cavanagh took over Enerdu (original owner was named Dupuis, and the name “Enerdu” comes from “Energy Dupuis”). They cannot change the water levels from those recommended in the Mississippi River Water Management Plan (MRWMP) overseen by the Ministry of Natural Resources. This plan was established in 2006.

 I asked specifically about people who live upstream of the project, such as Menzies House guests, or Thoburn Mill tenants having issues with canoeing, and was assured that it would be no different from the conditions of today. Also, the “bubble” where the kids like to swim near the bridge on the Barley Mow side would remain unchanged.

Ron pointed out that the weir type is “the Cadillac” of weirs: the Obermeyer Weir, which can be looked up online, and also can be seen live, if you want to go to Belleville. It’s more expensive, but it allows more water to cross to maintain the appearance of the river. Also, with late season weather events, it is easy to lower the weir to prevent flooding upstream. Currently, the flashboards break away sometime in the fall when water velocities reach a certain level. And that’s a problem. If we got heavy rains (say, due to a southern hurricane), it would be tricky and dangerous to remove the boards to prevent flooding.

My personal view on the Enerdu project continues to evolve as I learn more about it. I try very hard to ask simple, straightforward questions, and I was given simple, straightforward answers to them.

At this point, as I said to Ron, I continue to not be happy with the idea of a substantial new building taking up a good chunk of our river in front of the Barley Mow. As to its physical appearance, I do not believe that Cavanagh Construction would put in something ugly; and Ron assured me that no expense would be spared in creating something worthy of the location. Plus, I don’t believe that Cavanagh would soil their reputation with an eyesore (concrete bunker). As to the weir, I see certain advantages to this more modern weir, particularly in light of increasing weird weather events that climate change causes. I can agree that flashboards vs modern weir is in the eye of the beholder.

Ron stressed that the Enerdu project must follow the MRWMP guidelines for the weir height, which enabled me to understand why the environmental assessment of the project did not go outside of Almonte: This project is not going to affect water levels from the height of today’s wooden weir boards one bit – and so the environmental assessment was allowed to be more localized.

A few more items of financial interest: Ron pointed out that Enerdu stands to make 6.9 cents per kWh (with annual Consumer Price Index increases) from this project. Enerdu is footing the entire bill for the project construction, as it is 100% private. The only tax payer money that comes in is in the form of payment for the actual green power produced. Ron was able to tell me that the project will cost about $5.5-$6M to build… the hydro building itself is only $1M of this cost, the rest is equipment, much of which will likely come from Canadian Hydro Components, a local business.

I sent this article to Ron twice.  The first time, he made some modifications to it, which I followed precisely.  The second time, I asked him to approve it, and he would neither approve nor disapprove of it, although he offered no other suggestions of changes to it.  He declared that he is not trying to use me to put out information, just wanted to answer my questions – which of course he did.   He suggests the WESA site as a good source of information for people trying to wrap their heads around this project.

Maureen Dagg