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.