Philip Mcleod

The McLeod Report - London, Ontario

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Back to the damn dam

REPORT #1,135: The spitting contest ended before the final competition, and the city now has a dam that won’t work for about half the actual cost. Mayor Brown says we should fix it and a little political sleight of hand last week may ensure that becomes necessary.

Monday, Dec. 21, 2015 – LondonOntario

It may be the Christmas Sale purchase of the century – for about 50 per cent off retail the city now owns outright a dam on the Thames River that doesn’t work. 

The mayor is elated. 

The rest of us? Well perhaps not so much.

Here’s the deal. In 2006, with significant financial help from mommy Queen’s Park and daddy Ottawa, the Corporation of the City of London – that’s our formal name – paid about $6.8 million for a new dam on the Thames at Springbank Park.

The new dam, as well as the one it replaced, serves no practical purpose other than backing up the river all the way to the foot of downtown at the Forks of the Thames to a depth that makes navigation for small boats possible in the summer.

During final testing in 2008 something happened that caused bolts holding the hinge to shear off one of the four steel gates that are raised and lowered to control the flow of water through spillways.

The blame-game started immediately. The city sued the builders. They counter-sued. And the preliminaries of what promised to be a lengthy and costly spitting contest began. Almost eight years after the incident trial was set for early next year. 

In preparation for the finals, the city hired expensive expert witnesses who were prepared to testify the builder was at fault because the dam has design flaws. 

The builders hired expensive expert witnesses who were prepared to testify the city was at fault because someone neglected to check whether the spillway was clear before the gates were engaged. 

In litigious circles this is known as a circumstantial tie. 

Indeed, in the brief public statement issued by the city’s public relations spokesperson Thursday afternoon, the following was claimed: “No party admitted liability.” In the settlement the builders returned around half the purchase price, a cheque in the amount of $3,775,000.

Furthermore, the city’s statement said: “At the request of the parties, further details of the settlement are to remain confidential.  The settlement and payment of money to the city was not an admission of liability.” 

In the doublespeak of public relations essentially that means, “Okay we see your expert witnesses and we know you see ours, so let’s just call it a draw.”

Of course, what the statement did not acknowledge was that the dam on the Thames River still does not work. It will require expensive repairs and even then, quite possibly, could break expensively again if, well, you know, it really does have a design flaw that no one will now, or ever apparently, admit to. Or if it’s not operated properly, not saying it wasn’t last time of course.

So, now what?

Well Matt Brown, when he was running for mayor, promised if elected The Damn Dam Will Be Fixed. And lord knows, a politician cannot break a promise. So there was Mayor Brown, front and centre in the media, waving the Corporation of the City of London’s credit card and saying, “Let’s fix this sucker!”

Or was that, “Let’s fix this, sucker.” Because when the bill comes for the credit card held by the Corporation of the City of London and flashed about so gleefully these days by members of this council guess who has to pay it? 

Cost of repairs hasn’t yet been determined. The city also won’t acknowledge the cost of expert witnesses and outside legal consultants employed in the preparation of its case. Some people with knowledge of the matter suggest the total of these two expenses will be, oh, somewhere near $3.775 million. Or more.

After which, damn it, we would still have a dam with dubious credentials.

We don’t really need this dam. And a lot of people don’t want it repaired or rebuilt. It impedes the natural flow of the river for no worthy purpose other than facilitating the summer boating by relatively few people. Like any unnatural structure in the water it inhibits the movement of fish to their traditional spawning spots upriver. This is something many creatures with fins have been happily enjoying for the past seven springs and summers.

However, there is this thing called Back to the River. You can read about it here. Let me say unequivocally I support its general concept, which is that London has long turned its back on this heritage waterway and this needs to stop. London Community Foundation sparked a $500,000 contest to attract international designs to re-engage the citizens of this community with the Thames.

I was told by several people involved in the competition that fixing the dam was not to be a consideration in the judging of the winning entry.

Nevertheless, the design submitted by a Denver company that ultimately won includes, as an option, a cantilevered walkway called The Ribbon Bridge out over the river at The Forks. The basic design, for attractive trails, natural features and interesting water features, is $5 million. The optional walkway an additional $2 million.

It would be fair to say that not only has London turned its back on the river over the years, it has tended to use it as a bit of a garbage dump. So without the dam holding back the water in the summer when the natural flow is at its lowest, there’s not a lot worth seeing at The Forks. Unless, of course, you’ve got a thing for rusting grocery carts and scummy worn out truck tires.

The cantilevered option, therefore, needs the river cleaned up big time. It also needs the dam. 

Last week, city council’s planning and environment committee met to discuss a proposal from planning staff to endorse the winning design, including The Ribbon Bridge. 

Mayor Brown, who almost never attends committee meetings, was there. He was elated – “this is an exciting day for London,” he said as he joined the committee in unanimously supporting the design, optional walkway and all, knowing fixing the dam would be required. 

In political circles this is known as a taxpayer gotchya, and a damn fine one too.

THE McLEOD REPORT ON RADIO

Lineup for Tuesday, Dec. 22: To fix, or not, the Springbank Dam -- a look from all sides. CJBK 9 - 10 a.m.

Comments   

# RE: Back to the damn damElaine Rickert 2015-12-20 18:12
No to the dam.
We need affordable housing.
We need programs for unemployed young people.
We need to stop dumping sewage into the Thames.
We don't need this dam.
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# TriageMichael van Holst 2015-12-20 20:44
Thanks for this comment.
It is good to keep all our priorities in mind.
We can fix the dam, we can remove it, we can leave it just as it is; but the decision should not be made outside the context of other important concerns.
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# Impouding sewage with damBarry Wells 2015-12-21 08:33
Impounding sewage with an unnecessary, costly dam should never be a priority under any circumstances.

It's apparent council members, including the mayor and deputy-mayor Hubert, don't understand this issue.

Even if the sewage bypasses into the Thames River upstream of the dam ended with the expenditure of $337M (that's the estimated cost), damming the Thames at Springbank is bad for the river's ecosystem, including wildlife habitat, fish and wildlife.
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# RE: Back to the damn dambill brock 2015-12-20 18:33
New Council: Open and transparent!!!
On September 29th this Council; in camera, received and approved the agreement including terms. This was kept secret until last week when they got the cheque! In the meantime the Council passed " Back to the River" without a word about issues raised in this blog no full discussion on this plan. I believe this Council has acted in bad faith; the dam decision was already decided by them and full disclosure be damned! It my opinion we have been had! It also raises the question about who else knew about this such as "Back to River" and therefore process went the way it did in Oct., November reports. There may be more to come if one examines the billion dollar transportation rationale for facts? Why didn't staff insist on full discussion before now on the river? Isn't their obligation to present all the factors on both sides; as the experts, to Council. Someone has been had? Council or staff or us? Answer is "Gotchya": THAT'S US!
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# RE: Back to the damn damGord Drimmie 2015-12-20 19:11
Yes, by all means fix the dam and restore what used to be. For funding there is a large pool of available funding raised by those usurious sewer & water taxes that have increased residents' costs for sewer and water by 141% and 102% respectively in the last 12 years! That's almost as flagrant as Kathleen Wynne's performance in the hydro area! The City saved approximately $10 million in its capital budget from the waste-water area according to Councillor Josh Morgan. “The scope of projects there (i.e. sewer & water) were reduced, it’s just not necessary,” he said.

So if we MUST keep hitting residents for sewer & water increases double or triple the rate of increase in the consumer price index, fixing the damn seems like a really good way to use that money. And it will certainly add to the appeal of Springbank Park, the Forks of the Thames area, and everything in between.
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# RE: Back to the damn damGord Drimmie 2015-12-20 19:11
Yes, by all means fix the dam and restore what used to be. For funding there is a large pool of available funding raised by those usurious sewer & water taxes that have increased residents' costs for sewer and water by 141% and 102% respectively in the last 12 years! That's almost as flagrant as Kathleen Wynne's performance in the hydro area! The City saved approximately $10 million in its capital budget from the waste-water area according to Councillor Josh Morgan. “The scope of projects there (i.e. sewer & water) were reduced, it’s just not necessary,” he said.

So if we MUST keep hitting residents for sewer & water increases double or triple the rate of increase in the consumer price index, fixing the damn seems like a really good way to use that money. And it will certainly add to the appeal of Springbank Park, the Forks of the Thames area, and everything in between.
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# Get rid of the DamBarry Wells 2015-12-20 19:56
Improving river-water quality should be Job #1 for London:

http://londonyodeller.ca/london/improving-river-water-quality-should-be-job-1-for-london/#more-5939
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# To GordCynic 2015-12-20 22:31
Water and sewer charges only go to those systems not general revenue. Back to river - every option showed boats as a kiss up to the Mayor. Shame to see Joni the Environmentalis t as party to this nonsense. The river is healthier, but Matt the canoeist cares not a fig for the environment. Shameful really.
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# No water no needWalter 2015-12-20 23:21
If this vision for the Forks needs water then we need to have the river do its thing and we need to stop dumping our sewage into it. Not a pleasant site to sit by the tranquil waters and see Oh Henry bars floating by.
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# RE: Back to the damn damElaine Rickert 2015-12-21 14:15
Sewage! Before we talk about "back to the river" let's talk about sewage. The river might be old but it is a slow moving cesspool for much of it. We can sit on benches and admire the green algae. A lot has already been done for downtown. All of those Fanshawe students and new apartment buildings came at a cost to London. And still that is not enough. Hard to believe that instead of stepping up work on the sewage system to get raw sewage out of the river we will be decorating the river banks instead with boomerang bridges. So, the mayor lied. Springbank dam wasn't just about canoeing which is a pretty dumb reason to dam up a river. It was part of this fork of the Thames nonsense. We got hoodwinked.
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# Damn the DamJ. David Scott 2015-12-21 15:17
Leave the river in its' natural state... canoers and boaters be damned.The ecosystem and wildlife are paramount.
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# RE: Damn the DamElaine Rickert 2015-12-22 02:15
Thanks for saying it. Canoers and boaters be damned.
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# The natural level of the Thames was much higher before Fanshawe DamJames Dwyer 2015-12-22 14:03
Fanshawe Dam regulates the flow of water on the Thames River so it does not flood the city. This leaves the Thames river dry in the summer. Rain water pools in the river bed and this creates a perfect spawning ground for mosquitos. We have an empty ditch running through the middle of the city. Springbank Dam restores the river to it's natural level.
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# Water into Fanshawe reservoir equals water releasedRockinon 2015-12-22 16:12
According to UTRCA: "Throughout most of the year, the amount of water released from the reservoir is the same as the amount of water entering from upstream. During a flood, less water is released than comes into the reservoir, which results in the reservoir gradually filling up as the extra water is stored. After the flood passes, the stored water is gradually released. Although some flooding may still occur . . . "
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# Water into Fanshawe reservoir equals water releasedRockinon 2015-12-22 16:12
According to UTRCA: "Throughout most of the year, the amount of water released from the reservoir is the same as the amount of water entering from upstream. During a flood, less water is released than comes into the reservoir, which results in the reservoir gradually filling up as the extra water is stored. After the flood passes, the stored water is gradually released. Although some flooding may still occur . . . "
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# Nobody's buying what you're sellingBarry Wells 2015-12-23 09:06
Total nonsense.

The Springban Dam creates a head pond which is totally unnatural, just as Fanshawe Lake in unnatural.
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# Leading the dumb, docile, naïve suckers.Tucker 2015-12-21 18:26
1 of 2
Londoners stop……sit down……..close your eyes…….visualiz e, MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of hard earned tax dollars giving off the aroma of a plugged toilet, full of diarrhea, full of chemicals, etc fill the air from your tiny Greenway plant, discharging through a massive pipe into our tiny Thames River filling all the way to Springbank Dam.

The same stink Londoners enjoyed a decade ago.

Today our puppet and too many rookies received orders from higher up (not Londoners) to spend extra MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of hard earned tax dollars at the forks/downtown fantasy.
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# Leading the dumb, docile, naïve suckers.Tucker 2015-12-21 18:29
2 of 2
First examples of fact:

“During final testing in 2008 something happened………” Actually an employee from city hall engineering Dept. turned the switch on during lunch time when everybody was gone.

That’s why Londoners got PEANUTS in court this past week. Does anybody know if he still works at city hall?

Sewer line under rail tracks Oak and Pine Streets. A city engineer came on site and told the contractor you’re boring too deep, bring it up…..then the collapse. Does anybody know if he still works at city hall?

Trust Londoners remember Bill Armstrong song and dance. Londoners will spend extra MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of hard earned tax dollars to fix this mess.
Do Londoners know WHY they are being fed liberal diarrhea about “forks/downtown ”, do you know the end purpose “Liberal diarrhea swamp” have in mind for themselves?

Think!

PS: Enjoy Lake Erie drinking water.
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# The dammed river stunkRockinon 2015-12-21 22:00
During much of the summer when the river was held almost stagnant by the Springbank Dam, London's river was a smelly, open sewer -- especially near, and downriver of, the Greenway plant. At The Forks on a hot, late-summer day the water could be quite unpleasant as well. The river may be shallower now but it is also healthier now. Let's celebrate the Thames and remember it is Back to the River and not Back to the Reservoir. There is a large, global movement to remove dams like the Springbank one. London should join the movement and scrap the damn dam.
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# The dam is not the source of the pollutionJames Dwyer 2015-12-22 13:56
Still, at a city committee meeting on March 19, officials denied any connection between the dam and water quality, instead blaming the 3,100 square kilometres of farms upstream of London that drain into the river, as well as the sewage treatment plants in the city, which every year during heavy rains dump untreated waste effluent into the river.


"The dam doesn't have anything to do with E.coli," maintains Tom Copeland, the city's manager of wastewater and drainage engineering.
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# More to this storyRockinon 2015-12-22 16:24
The quote from Tom Copeland was in a Toronto Star story. The story also reported:

The reservoir (water) seems to be worse than the rest of the river. . . . Reservoir water quality was classified as "poor" with, on average, bacterial levels more than twice what they are in the rest of the watershed.

Still, at a city committee meeting on March 19, officials denied any connection between the dam and water quality . . .

"The dam doesn't have anything to do with E.coli," maintains Tom Copeland, the city's manager of wastewater and drainage engineering.

But even Copeland would agree the reservoir is quite stagnant, accumulates toxins and sediments, and becomes depleted of oxygen as it heats up from the sun, conditions that are terrible for fish but perfect for algae growth.

"And," adds biologist Isobel Heathcote, who teaches environmental engineering at the University of Guelph, "you have nice warm dark, wet conditions that are suitable for bacteria to grow."
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# Get rid of the dam!Barry Wells 2015-12-21 22:28
Some people who support the dam being repaired and reactivated have been spreading the incorrect message that the recently council-approve d expenditure of $40M at Greenway PCP will end the sewage bypasses into the Thames, upstream of the dam. Not true at all. The City of London purports it will eliminate close to 60% of the bypasses from Greenway but London has five other treatment plants and 36 pumping stations. All contribute to some degree to the bypasses. The City says $337M is needed to eliminate most of the sewage bypasses, not the $40M just at Greenway. But as well know, even without the sewage bypasses, the dam impounds pollutants harming the river and destroying its habitat and wildlife. I've read their FB page and it's chock-full of bad information.
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# Leading the dumb, docile, naïve suckers down the river.Tucker 2015-12-22 15:04
“Do Londoners know WHY they are being fed liberal diarrhea about “forks/downtown ”, do you know the end purpose “Liberal diarrhea swamp” have in mind for themselves?”

“PERFORMING ARTS CENTER” at the forks PERIOD!

Londoners stop……sit down……..open your eyes and ears, and look past your nose…..now BEND OVER Londoners you’re on the edge of getting a major reaming of your life courtesy of “Liberal diarrhea swamp” players.
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# RE: Back to the damn damEmilyh 2015-12-22 18:46
Tucker.....Merr y Christmas! You sound like you need a hug!
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# Decommission the damn dam.Deb 2015-12-22 20:31
I have lived a few hundred meters from the dam for 40 years. When it was operational,Spr ingbank Park STUNK. The water looked like pea soup and grew a stinking stagnant film on it that would etch the gel coat on my canoes. The flotsam and jetsam would accumulate both in the head pond and below the dam in the hydraulic created by the dam. Also in that time, there were a number of drowning that occurred there, because of the dam.

Compare that to today, where the river runs free. It no longer stinks. The sewage issue is still an issue that should be where we put our tax dollars.

The shoreline looks more like a real river these days with trees, shrubs and wildlife returning. It's pretty. No more flotsam and jetsam. There hasn't been any drownings at the dam.

I see lots of people enjoying a free flowing river, paddlers, anglers, wildlife watchers and walkers...and I for one enjoy all these activities much more now that the river is free flowing.
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# London is missing the boat. Literally.Bear 2015-12-22 21:29
This rivers real canoeing/kayaki ng potential is virtually untapped. I don't know what it is about Ontario-ans that makes them think that canoeing is a flat water sport. Take a trip to Michigan and check out the rivers there, where thousands upon thousands hit the rivers in canoes and kayaks throughout the warmer months. Businesses along the bigger rivers, like AuSable, Manistee, Pere Marquette and Muskegan, have taken full advantage of the paddling opportunities to be had. Canoe liveries, rentals, car spotting, drop offs and pick ups at the various landings, as well as camping accommodations along the rivers all bring business to the areas as well and spending on other amenities, like food, restaurants,bre weries, gear shops, and the worlds biggest canoe race. (AuSable River Canoe Marathon) Flowing rivers in those areas are the life blood of those communities. The river is at it's best when it can carry you from one point to the next. Flat water paddling is boring. There is also plenty of opportunities in the London area for that already if that's what you find enjoyable. Real paddlers know the thrill of a FLOWING river.
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# Decommission the DamBarry Wells 2015-12-23 09:31
The [Springbank] dam is "a high-cost pollution maintenance device," declares Felix Barbetti of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.

Aside from the obvious problems polluted water pose for fish, it can also cause humans grief. "When water sprays in your eye, you get an eye infection," says London Canoe Club president Addie Gushue, who brings alcohol swabs on outings with her dragon boat team. "You don't want to go in the water. But you know kids want to play. They flip their kayaks and think it's a hoot. There's a high incidence of skin rashes, eye and ear infections.

"But you still do it because it's fun," she laughs. The local health unit and the city say poor water health in the Thames is no secret to Londoners, and there are many projects upstream of the dam to help make river water cleaner. They also say boating is fine in the reservoir, just not swimming, and they recommend a shower to anyone who comes into contact with the water.

~ From a Toronto Star article in 2007.
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# Concerned? Get involved!Observer 2015-12-24 15:37
The City is conducting a study to evaluate the feasibility of interconnecting the Vauxhall and Pottersburg sewer plants, t0 provide additional operational flexibility and facilitate future upgrades.A Public Information Centre (PIC) will be held in the spring of 2016 to present the purpose and scope of this study, confirm the project need, review alternative solutions to address the problem and identify a recommended alternative. Advanced notification of the PIC will be advertised on the City of London website and in The Londoner. To learn more, visit the project website: http://www.london.ca/residents/Environment/EAs/Pages/default.aspx
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# The Last Dam WordJ. D. Sweeney 2015-12-29 07:10
In comparing Thames River flows at Byron with Fanshaw, we're forgetting there are two branches. By repairing (or closing)the damaged gate in the Springbank dam and installing a turbine, the City should be able to double the river's electricity potential.
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# RE: The Last Dam WordBear 2015-12-31 01:07
The cost of a single turbine and running it, hooking it up to the city power grid for 5 months a year...not worth the money or trouble. It would cost more than what it would return. The money would be better spent improving the water treatment plants,assistin g farmers to build holding ponds for run off or an MRI machine or two at the local hospitals.
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