January 9, 2018 10:17 pm

London’s civic works committee says goodbye to the Springbank Dam

FILE - The Springbank Dam has been locked in the open position since getting stuck during a test in 2008.

Travis Dolynny/980 CFPL
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After an overwhelming number of locals urged politicians to decommission the Springbank Dam, London’s civic works committee agreed to do just that.

And it was Mayor Matt Brown — who campaigned on a promise to fix the structure in the 2014 mayoral race — who put forward the motion.

“I look at what we knew in 2014, and I look at what we know today, and I know that we’ve made the right evidence-based decision,” said Brown, after committee members unanimously endorsed the staff recommendation 6-0.

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READ MORE: Decision time for the Springbank Dam?

“It would be virtually impossible to get the appropriate permits to move forward with repairing the Springbank Dam,” he explained.

The dam has been locked in the open position since getting stuck during a test in 2008, with WWF Canada, the Thames River Anglers Association, and the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation (COTFN) among those calling for it to be taken apart.

During the public participation part of Tuesday evening’s meeting, Jenelle Cornelius said Oneida Nation of the Thames First Nation would like to see a free-flowing river too. She works on the reserve as an environment technologist, and spoke of a need for more investigation into the water’s quality around Oneida and COTFN.

There are often boil-water advisories in place, and “there’s been people who don’t even fish anymore because they’re scared of the toxic chemicals in the fish,” she explained.

READ MORE: Three options for Springbank Dam: Leave it, fix it, or get rid of it

London resident Mohammad Moussa told politicians to be “bold,” and to tear out the dam altogether. Another resident Elizabeth Peloza said she wanted to see council “remove all traces of it.”

But supporters of the Back to the River project, kayakers, and canoeists like Charlie Eberhard of the Canoe Club, are among those who want the structure fixed.

“I feel like I’m lost in the wilderness here,” said Eberhard, pointing out that members of the rowing and paddling communities would have spent money in the city during events and tournaments.

There was little debate on the matter, once the councillors were given the chance to speak. Instead, they spent time thanking city staff for their hard work and musing over memories.

“I was here when we accepted a cheque from the federal government to build a dam,” said Coun. Harold Usher. “I was here when nobody was saying, ‘We don’t want a dam.'”

Coun. Phil Squire remembers taking trips on the river as a child.

“We all thought it was great,” he said. “But my mom and dad would always say, ‘Don’t you dare touch that water.'”

READ MORE: Springbank Dam should remain out of commission, says biologist

As for just how the dam will be decommissioned — that’s yet to be determined, although Coun. Jesse Helmer suggested an investment for a pollution prevention control plan to mitigate the negative impact of the process on the river’s health.

Last September, city staff said repairing the dam would be a “regulatory headache,” and that there’s been an increase in populations of many different wildlife species since the dam failed. Its repair would cause habitat loss for a number of endangered and threatened species, the report said.

After the dam got stuck, the city launched a lawsuit against the engineers and designers, who launched a counter-suit against the city. The case wasn’t put to rest until 2015, when the city was awarded $3.7 million in a settlement.

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