Howson Dam removal process to begin
BY DENNY SCOTT
North Huron Township Council decided to take the next step to removing the Howson Dam, leaving a community group hoping to fundraise for a pond-sustaining structure to start their efforts at square one.
During council’s Sept. 20 meeting, Director of Facilities and Public Works Jamie McCarthy presented the results of a request for proposals for the engineering of the removal of the structure. In her report, she noted that there was a wide disparity between costs quoted by the two firms that had replied.
GSS Solutions provided a price of $95,325 to complete the three-phase project, which would see the firm provide engineering consulting to decommission the bridge, plan out the naturalization of the Middle Maitland River and finally provide documents as to which option the municipality wanted to pursue: rehabilitation of the slopes and river bed or provide reporting, costing and a presentation on a low-cost naturalization option for the area. Chant Engineering offered the same options for $305,500, plus $23,100 for additional information on a dam alternative.
McCarthy suggested awarding the engineering portion of the project to GSS, saying that there is $46,899 in a reserve account, leaving only $48,426 plus non-refundable HST to be covered in the 2022 budget.
Prior to McCarthy’s request, however, Chris Moore, an individual interested in fundraising to create a pond at the site, asked council to keep that request in mind.
Moore asked council to allow a fundraising committee to determine if there was the funding capacity in the community to maintain the pond water level.
After receiving McCarthy’s report, several council members expressed surprise that the north portion of the dam was being reviewed for removal, as they felt it was only supposed to be the south.
McCarthy explained that, when removing the south dam, the berm between the two structures could shift and destabilize, leaving the north portion of the structure unstable. As a result, she said, it was best to remove both portions at the same time.
“If we start pulling away at the south structure, we will impact the soil there,” she said.
That led council to discussing the future of the entire site as, without the north section of the dam, a whole new dam or similar structure would need to be built to create a pond, as community members had asked, which could cost millions of dollars.
McCarthy also explained that, if council wanted to try and use the north structure as the basis for a structure to maintain the pond, they would need to spend as much as $130,000 in testing, because all testing thus far had been on the southern section of the dam.
Finally, McCarthy told council there is funding available to help with the naturalization of the dam under the Disaster Mitigation Adaptation Fund, which helps with repairs due to inclement weather. She said she could apply for the removal of the dam, as, with climate change-influenced weather, it poses a flood hazard. She said she didn’t think she could apply to repair or replace the dam, however, since it didn’t fulfill the mandate of the fund.
Councillor Kevin Falconer, who sat on the committee that recommended removal of the dam if it couldn’t be rehabilitated, said he wanted to push forward with the consulting work for the removal of the dam.
“We inherited this and we’ve made great progress in the last three years to get to this point,” he said. “I would feel badly about putting any decision on this off to a new council, and I’d rather us deal with this now.”
He said council wouldn’t be able to find out how much it will cost to replace the asset until it’s removed, and said council’s responsibility is to deal with the asset that “has become degraded over 50 years.”
“I suggest removing the structure, making it safe, then look at moving forward,” he said. “We will have a better idea of possibilities once it’s removed.”
Seip said he wasn’t against removing the structure, but wanted council to be aware that, if this decision was made, it would set any kind of community effort to restore the pond back, because it’s more difficult to install a dam than it is to replace one.
Moore agreed, saying, if the structure is coming out, the replacement would need to go in at the same time. McCarthy agreed with the assessment, though said it wasn’t impossible to install a new dam, just more difficult.
“[The dam] has to come out,” she said. “What I’m concerned with is how fast it’s going to go.”
She said if the project moved ahead quickly, the concerned citizens group might not have time to raise funds to create a pond in the river.
Councillor Anita van Hittersum, however, said that the fundraising group hadn’t bothered to start raising money or provide plans to council, despite the three years council had been working on the project. She also said that any structure installed would take years to get through approvals.
Leaving the existing structure isn’t an option, she said, as it creates liability for the municipality.
Falconer said council had already established a committee that set the recommendation to remove the dam after looking at all the data available. He questioned the wisdom of putting together another committee to reevaluate the situation before a decision is made.
“This other [suggestion] about fundraising is another situation,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate the work done, but we’re moving on the recommendation from a totally separate committee of council.”
Councillor Ric McBurney said the issue was “confusing” and “expensive” and that going to another committee would be “going in circles”. He made a motion to support the removal of the dam through engineering services provided by GSS. Falconer seconded the motion.
Seip pointed out that, by pursuing the motion, council was all but guaranteeing that the citizen’s committee would, at best, be set back, however, councillors weren’t interested in splitting up the work to allow the committee to determine costs, leading to council approving the motion.