The Almonte-based Mississippi RiverWatchers Group was created a few days after the first real exposure to the Expansion and Redevelopment plans by Enerdu Power Systems Inc. (Enerdu) for the Old Flour Mill Building on the river in the centre of Almonte.  Many of us were concerned at that time by the apparent size and scope of those plans, and in the intervening months, as our understanding of the details and the implications grew, our concerns have increased substantially.

You may know that Enerdu is related to the Cavanagh Construction Company, which is the owner/operator of a large number of gravel quarries in the region, and has been the contractor for many of the roads and bridges throughout Lanark County over a period of many years, and is now working on the expansion of Hwy 417 West of Eagleson Road.  Jeff Cavanaugh, son of Thomas Cavanagh, is the owner of Enerdu, having purchased the Old Flour Mill building, including the small generating station from Mike Dupuis several years ago.

Many of you will remember that it was one year ago, April 11, 2012 that a group of concerned citizens organized a public meeting at the Old Town Hall.  Enerdu and their consultants OEL/HydroSys were asked to provide details for what until that time had been largely rumor and conjecture. Many of those most alarmed by the plans lived along the river in Almonte and upstream, all the way to Appleton.

Some local riverfront property owners, known as “riparian owners”, had been alerted to the project by the company. However, the two information meetings, held in early in September 2011 and February 2012, were sparsely attended, as notice of the meetings was not adequately advertised. But as word of the plans began to spread from those who were at the early meetings, other members of the Almonte community became concerned and organized the April meeting in the Old Town Hall.

Enerdu and their consultants were invited to provide details of the proposed power generation expansion project to an overflow crowd of interested citizens. Mr. Ron Campbell, the Project Leader, as well as a representative from OEL/HydroSys, provided a general description of the expansion, but the details remained sketchy, with the result there were more questions than answers. We were advised that more detail would be forthcoming when the “Environmental Assessment Final Report” (the ER) was completed and released to the public. All in all, the April 2012 meeting was short on details and long on rhetoric, with many pointed and often emotional concerns expressed in a lengthy question session that followed the Enerdu presentation.

In the intervening twelve months, the Mississippi RiverWatchers have been actively consulting with experts, organizations and other communities facing similar hydro development situations.  The ER was finally released on December 17, 2012, and after meticulous scrutiny and detailed analysis, we now know enough to truly worry us.

As we understand the details for the Enerdu Expansion and Redevelopment plans, a new weir will be constructed in the neighborhood of the existing weir. However, the proposed size of the base of the new weir is, by comparison, massive. The existing concrete base is about a quarter of a metre wide, whereas the Enerdu drawings indicate a proposed concrete base for the new, variable height weir as 3.75 m wide. With a base of that dimension, even the placement of the new weir on the footprint of the existing weir is a cause for concern, as the sheer size of the new weir will permanently change the topography of the upper falls and thereby permanently alter the existing view of the falls from the Riverwalk.

Then there is the matter of dredging the shallow stone riverbed by hoe ram and dynamite. A very large volume of rock, above, below, and at the site of the new weir will be removed over the course of heavy construction, probably during the late summer and fall when visitors to Almonte are most numerous.

And last, but by no means least, there is the matter of a brand new powerhouse  to contain the two new turbines and generators. The new building will be constructed adjacent to the existing powerhouse in the Olde Flour Mill building and will extend well into the riverbed. It is difficult to visualize the size and impact of the new generating plant based on the small drawings provided by Enerdu. Those drawings show the powerhouse to be about 34 metres long, 15 metres wide and 7 metres in height. It is the contention of the Mississippi RiverWatchers that the proposed structure, no matter how dressed in historical finery, is quite simply out-of-scale with the surrounding downtown Almonte riverscape.   The planned placement of the new generator building will reduce the width of the river at the narrowest point in town by 30%, which raises a real concern for potential flood damage in the heritage downtown core of Almonte

There is also the somewhat contentious matter of who actually owns some of the land intended for the power plant, the weir and the dredged river bottom. Some of the land is indeed owned by Enerdu, but needed areas are owned by the Crown (Ontario). At this stage we do not know the status of the negotiations between Enerdu and the Province for the lease or sale of the needed Crown land.

Ontario environmental regulations allow the developer of an existing hydro generation facility to do a generic self-assessment of the environmental impact of the proposed new and enlarged generating station using their own consultants, a so-called “Class EA”. Enerdu engaged OEL/HydroSys to complete this Class EA (Environmental Assessment)  on their behalf. We feel that this process is inherently biased and allows the proponent to put the best possible spin on their plans.

In particular, the OEL/ HydroSys ER (Environmental Review)  of December 2012 masterfully positions the expansion plans as having minimal if any environmental impact beyond what has been experienced under present operating conditions and regulations. The current operating conditions are detailed in the Mississippi River Water Management Plan (MRWMP), and we believe that if these regulations remain in place, then the environmental damage that has been experienced between Almonte and Appleton will continue unabated. The RiverWatchers and the Public Advisory Committee to the MRWMP have requested the Ministry of Natural Resources to amend the Water Management Plan to restore river levels to values that existed prior to 2004, (when the water hold back levels were allowed to rise), and thereby allow the rejuvenation of the drowning wetlands up river. At this time there has been no response by MNR to this formal request.

The ER created by OEL/HydroSys on behalf of their client Enerdu, published in December 2012, remains available at the Municipal Building on Old Perth Rd, and at the Almonte and Pakenham Public Libraries. There have been a number of individual citizens and organizations who have taken the time to study the OEL/HydroSys documents and have subsequently filed their concerns with the Ministry of Environment in the form of a Part II Order Request. The Part II Order Request asks the Ministry to undertake a Provincial Environmental Assessment, which one expects would be a more rigorous and objective analysis of all the issues pertaining to the proposed expansion and redevelopment. The Part II Order requests were filed on or before the deadline at the end of January 2013, but at this time we do not know the status of the request.

The study of the Enerdu Expansion and Redevelopment plans has been a long, challenging and arduous process for the Mississippi RiverWatchers. There are many other valid concerns in addition to those provided here, and we want to share with you what we know, as well as what we do not know about this contentious project.

We invite all interested members of the community to a public information meeting to learn what we have learned since this time last year.

The Public Information Meeting will take place on Thursday, April 11, 2013 at the Almonte Civitan Hall from 7 – 9 PM.   

 All are welcome.