by Joane Emard
Many friends have asked me why I am against this project. The quick answer is: this is a project that simply does not make sense.
Had such a location, like this in Almonte, been situated in a district in Ottawa or Toronto, government officials, who have made decisions would have seen from the very beginning, that Enerdu, the energy company, was proposing a project that was unrealistic for the setting.
Enerdu already owns a powerhouse in Almonte but they want to build, beside it, a huge power plant building extending one third of the width of the river and to blast off rocks from the water fall. They want to control the height of the water on a daily basis by building a dam or weir which can be raised and lowered.
But Almonte is a small town, twenty minutes from Ottawa. Enerdu is owned by Jeff Cavanaugh, family member of the huge company, Cavanaugh Construction. Construction has just started. Blasting a rock is irreversible. Here is why I am against this project.
There is not enough water that flows over the falls where the new powerhouse and weir will be built so blasting of the river bottom is necessary. This is to be done in the middle of a downtown, meters away from buildings which have been built over one hundred years ago. The Old Town Hall, for example, is over 150 years old. It was built before the present parliament building and it has taken at least 4 million dollars over the span of four years to repair its slate roof, windows, stone foundation and walls.
The go-ahead to this project was based on a flawed assumption, which is, the impact of this project will be limited to 250 meters. Based on this premise provided by Enerdu, the provincial government had Enerdu follow the protocol or guidelines which included a restricted environmental assessment. Hence no full environmental assessment was needed; only a Class EA was necessary. A Class EA is limited in nature. The Class EA that was accepted by the provincial government was paid for by Enerdu. That in itself steers the government towards a biased route. Of course it would not be in Enerdu’s interest to show how its own project would have a negative impact on the environment and the people of Almonte.
Many decisions were made by the provincial government, by people sitting in their office, not having even visited Almonte. Many of Enerdu’s statements in their reports were not questioned. It is only when concerned people who read attentively and who were affected or knowledgeable about the ecosystem brought forward contradicting information, that some of their ideas were taken into account.
For example, I am an owner of condos in Thoburn Mill a building which is adjacent to the river walk and proposed new powerhouse. In their EA report, Enerdu stated that they had met with the Board of my building and that they had obtained permission to build an eel ladder along our property. This was totally false. In no way would we ever give permission for Enerdu to obstruct our view in such a confined area. Enerdu had to therefore modify their plans. Apparently now the ladder will be close to their building. As you can imagine, my skepticism towards the validity and honesty of this project increased.
When Ron Campbell, who is coordinating much of this project, states that the public has been involved in this process, this statement is questionable. Members of the RiverWatchers who were doing their own investigation of this project needed to ask for Access to Information through the province and even then Enerdu attempted to block the release of some information.
One of the initial meetings to inform the public about this project was initiated by two Almonte residents. It was held in the Old Town Hall. Later on, a general plan for this project was exhibited at the library and the public was able to see the size of the proposed powerhouse and the new weir. We found out that the new weir would have the capabilities to be lowered or raised by Enerdu. Enerdu would raise the weir to backup and accumulate water during non-peak power rate hours and draw down the water during peak power rate hours so that they could charge the government top prices for the electricity they produce.
What is ironic is that at this time there is a surplus of electricity that is produced in Ontario. We are even selling our electricity to the United States at a reduced price. Last spring our hydro bills went up and it was explained to us that we did not use enough power but we had to pay for electricity that we did not use. We had to honor and pay the private electrical companies who have contracts with Ontario hydro. (Makes you want to get off the grid and get a solar panel to put on your roof doesn’t it! )
However, if one is to look somewhat into the future and accept the fact that one day Ontario will need more electricity, one can only imagine that by then research into solar energy and ways to store energy will have made remarkable strides. The people in Almonte who will be stuck looking at the large powerhouse, in the heart of their town, just across from the Barley Mow will wonder why this project was ever accepted by the provincial government.
Can you believe that Enerdu has proclaimed that this area is an industrial zone? I see a lot of residential homes, apartments, and condos. I see lots of tourists visiting the downtown and looking at our falls. I do not see industries. Someone in MOECC from out of town accepted this statement. Because this area is now considered as industrial zone, higher constant noise can be generated.
I have wondered why; why is project so appealing to Jeff Cavanaugh. Ron Campbell said that it was because ever since doing a science project on electricity in elementary school Jeff Cavanaugh dreamed about the possibility of owning his own electrical power generating plant. I have never been naive enough to believe that simple explanation.
For one thing, Jeff Cavanaugh already has an electrical plant in Almonte (but I guess he wants a bigger one). Would it be because he could silence the noise of the current turbines which are in his current mill which he has converted into apartments? Could it be that it would be easier to sell or rent condos when the noisy generators/turbines are in another building? I’m just wondering.
Pardon my skepticism but ever since the untrue statement regarding the eel ladder at Thoburn Mill I have been very unsure of motives by Enerdu and the Provincial Government. I thought after the coal plant fiasco with the past Liberal Government, our current government would listen to the voice of the people. By the way, Enerdu will not pay any taxes to the Town of Mississippi Mills. The Province has given all power plants a municipal tax exemption.
This week I was reminded again why I am upset with this entire process. It was stipulated by the government that in order for construction to begin, Enerdu had to do an engineering structural survey of all the buildings that would be affected by the construction. Construction began a week ago. Still no information about our buildings being structural surveyed through video-taping or photographs.
We were therefore forced to notify the government to let them know heavy machinery was being used, a hoe-ram and drilling machine was at the current Enerdu building and still no information about the video-taping or photographing. A day later, Jeff Cavanaugh delivered a letter to each house hold stating that we should contact a company that he had hired for us to schedule video-taping between during the third and fourth week of July.
Many owners never received the letter because they are gone on holidays. I am actually one of these people. I am 1500 kilometers away, waiting to pick up a cousin who is flying in from a far-away province.
Does this mean I have to come back to Almonte from Prince Edward Island, at my own expense and forgo plans which were made prior to receiving letters by Enerdu? Enerdu knew that they were going to proceed with construction; I didn’t. By the way, the Mayor of our town found out at the same time we did when construction would start. It would have been courteous and necessary to let property owners know and do the structural surveys prior to the same week Enerdu started construction.
In the past few years, when visitors came out to visit I would show them where this powerhouse would be built. I brought them close to the Barley Mow. I would point out the old Canadian Pacific bridge which is no longer used by the trains. There are seven pillars that hold the bridge. I tell them that the powerhouse would extend to approximately the fourth pillar. I showed them the falls and my visitors see how little water falls over the rocks. The rocks are in the way.
Enerdu wants to remove them so that there is no obstruction and there is more flow towards their new power plant. “This project will never go through, the government won’t allow it” this was what every visitor has said. Without exception! Well, they were wrong. Enerdu is not treated as a private cottager would be. Enerdu is allowed to alter the shoreline and the river bottom.
I could talk about the wetlands, how the trees are dying because their roots do not have the chance to dry out. I could talk to you about the increased possibilities of flooding because a huge building will extend as far as one third of the river. I could talk to you about the Rapids Clubtail dragonfly which is an endangered species and located only in 4 areas in Ontario.
Enerdu claims that they never saw that dragonfly. It was however photographed last year by a member of the Almonte Field Naturalists. Pictures were sent. It was photographed again this year. Recently we found a report written by provincial staff stating one of four the Clubtail dragonfly’s habitat is found in Mississippi Mills. In the same report, as a recommendation, it is stated that new dams should not be built in these areas. I could but I think I have already provided sufficient reasons to explain why I oppose this project.
On Monday, July 11th an article about the Enerdu project appeared on the third page of the Ottawa Citizen. The article concludes by stating that because of this project, 150 houses will now be able to receive their electricity supply. This is a project that is very disruptive in the town of Almonte, for a small amount of extra electricity produced in a province that is producing a surplus of electricity. So much disruption! It does not make sense.
This project has been very divisive. Recently I found out that Enerdu wants access to the Old Town Hall parking lot and garden areas so its heavy equipment can access the river. I thought they already had a way to get to the river.
Is this how it works? Enerdu gets one approval then Enerdu demands more because they show that the project will be more costly if the residents don’t give more. And what happens if blasting causes rocks to fault more than it was expected. You cannot glue a rock back together again. Who monitors the depth of the reservoir that Enerdu will be creating?
How do you say STOP at this point when millions of dollars have been spent even when it makes no financial sense to the consumer? There is still time to say no when a project is based on flawed premises. Enerdu has been given permission and power to create mini-tides in Almonte by raising and lowering the water. How can that be?
After everything I have seen so far I do not have faith in the system. I see a giant company who was listened to when they said their zone of impact would be limited to 250 meters and many residents who are appalled and who have tried to say something.
Their voices have been ignored and soon their voice will be drowned out by blasting and roe-hamming. I hope Jeff Cavanaugh is so proud of his project that he puts his name beside Enerdu, on the building. Years from now, when visitors come to Almonte, they will know who is responsible for this fiasco.