Philip Mcleod

The McLeod Report - London, Ontario

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Damn those weasels at the dam

LATEST REPORT #1,142: City council’s civic works committee will hold a public participation meeting Tuesday night to discuss Springbank Dam and whether its fate should be tied to the Back to the River project. There is no justification for that. Whether the dam functions or not, The Forks remain and the planned rejuvenation project there can proceed.

Monday, March 7, 2016 – LondonOntario

There are at least two weasel statements in the staff documents relative to the fate of Springbank Dam to be debated Tuesday night by city council’s civic works committee at a public participation meeting.

A weasel statement is one that suggests a scary outcome, but hedges the threat with the word ‘may’. Lawyers use that word all the time when offering advice as a convenient way of covering their rear end.

Of course, it may not too. So we have ‘who knows’, ‘hard to tell’, ‘can’t predict’, ‘flip a coin’, ‘take your pick’ predictions that have the chance of being right – or wrong – at least half the time. 

One of the weasel statements is in this document, which surprise, surprise, was written by a lawyer. It raises the embarrassing and expensive possibility the provincial and federal governments might demand the return of their money should London’s city council decide to decommission the Springbank Dam.

When the new dam was built in 2005 the total cost was $6.8 million. London secured $3 million of the total from Queen’s Park and Ottawa. 

So if the dam isn’t repaired, would those governments actually demand their money back? Well now, there’s the $500-an-hour question. 

Irene Mathyssen, the astute Member of Parliament for London Fanshawe, suggests it’s unlikely. Full disclosure – she thinks the dam shouldn’t be repaired. 

She doesn’t explain why she thinks it’s unlikely. But perhaps she appreciates the problem the Ontario Liberal government would have, just before an election, explaining why it’s after London for measly$1.5 million when it has never be able to explain why it flushed $1 billion of taxpayers’ money to close two gas-fueled power plants for crass political consideration. And it certainly has never repaid any of the money.

Presumably the new Liberal federal government, whose cousins of the same political persuasion a decade ago wasted half-a-billion dollars of taxpayers’ money in something called AdScam, would have similar qualms. They haven’t repaid anything either.

One supposes it’s a safe bet that if the duly elected council of little ole LondonOntario decides the right thing to do is to let a river run free – and they should – the political gods will be on our side in any dust up with Ottawa or Queen’s Park. Or not.

The second (and much larger) weasel is the claim that by necessity the fate of Springbank Dam is linked to the Back to the River project at the Forks and that, as a result, the two should be studied in an environmental assessment together. After all, a second report says, “any option to be considered for the Springbank Dam (decommissioning, repair, repurposing) will influence the outcome of the Back to the River design work.”

Actually that last statement is beyond weaseling. It simply isn’t true. The organization that commissioned the Back to the River contest – London Community Foundation – and the company that won have both said, and more than once, the project at The Forks stands on its own, irrespective of what happens to the dam.

What happens with Springbank Dam and what happens at The Forks eight kilometres away are related in much the same way chocolate mousse and apple pie are. Both are desserts, both will add calories. You eat one with a spoon, the other with a fork and sometimes with cheese.

The cheese in the Back to the River project at The Forks is something called Ribbon on The Thames, a cantilevered walkway extending 60 feet or more over the river. Given the project at the Forks includes no actual work on the river itself – it’s all about making what’s on the land more interesting and interactive – what you would see walking out onto the Thames would be the same whether the depth of the water is two feet or 12. 

And if the idea is to turn around and gaze at the shore, the better view would actually come from the bridge above which is supposed to be turned into a pedestrian-only crossing as part of the downtown redevelopment plan.

It is claimed both the dam and the ribbon are linked from a river health perspective. No they aren’t. The dam physically blocks the river flow; the ribbon would sit well above it. The dam is there; the ribbon is not and, since it is not funded, may never be.

So maybe we don’t need one environmental assessment for these two things, one real, the other still a dream. 

What we do need, though, is a new environmental assessment on Springbank Dam, one based on scientific facts that determines whether the Thames River is better off today with the dam open than it ever was with it closed. 

There is much anecdotal evidence this is true, as is evidenced by the long list of people who wish to speak Tuesday or who have already filed their viewpoints. 

Of course, anecdotal evidence may, or may not, be factual or accurate. What is needed is hard evidence on what’s in that stretch of the river now that could be harmed if the flow of the Thames is again altered. What is in that stretch, it is widely agreed, are aquatic species at risk and their habitat.

What we don’t need, however, at least on the taxpayers’ dime, is a report that starts “with why and how people interact with the Thames River in the middle of the city,” a report that “may or may not include managing water levels, but there are many other ways the interaction can occur, and a range of resulting limitations and opportunities for doing so.” 

That’s from the staff report. If, indeed, city council judges that to be important it should be done with no preconceived notions – not about dams or ribbons or bridges or projects at The Forks – and at some future date. 



# RE: Damn those weasels at the damVicki Van Linden 2016-03-06 23:52
Thanks for your comments, Phil.

Here's hoping we can be successful at convincing city council that the dam always was a bad idea, and thanks to a fluke of fate (the damaged dam) we have a second chance to get it right.

If only The London Community Foundation would take an interest in less elitist but more civic-minded concerns like actually fixing the sewers so that no more untreated sewage ever goes into the river. It would be wonderful if that foundation made a sweeping decision that homelessness can no longer be tolerated so will donate 2 million dollars to build supported housing. They could become determined that mentally ill Londoners living in flop houses is bad for the community and must be addressed by influential citizens like themselves. I wish that they would dream a better dream, one that is less grandiose but far more beautiful.
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# RE: Damn those weasels at the damMenno Meijer 2016-03-07 14:34
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# You mean investing in human beings vs a pretty storyboard proporsal?Leila Paul 2016-03-07 22:32
That would require caring about those who do not have an organized lobby and who may be regarded as non-essential since they might not be active voters.

Could re-election plans be based on boasting that, as mayor or councillor, someone put the alleviation of human suffering by Londoners and Canadians ahead of a flashy new project?

Just look at the storyboard of the plans proposed. Even if construction has not begun by next election - the storyboard is pretty and tangible. It makes for a useful prop in marketing and self-promotion. Claiming to alleviate the intangible qualities of benefitting London's homeless and helpless may not fit well in an ad campaign.

Who would get boasting rights among the council and mayor?
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# RE: Damn those weasels at the damDeb Freele 2016-03-07 00:58
Back to the RIVER should mean RIVER not Back to the Damned [sic] head pond. So I definitely agree that the second weasel should be weasel at all. There is no reason that Back to the River projects could not continue. I still think there is a big opportunity here for things like canoeing...but as a river, with canoe liveries, landings, take outs and businesses that can accommodate river canoeing, car spotting, pick ups and drop offs, as they do in Michigan.
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# FloodingObserver 2016-03-07 01:18
To Deb and others, much of what is proposed is not possible due to flooding every year. No permanent structures can be built in the flood way. So do not expect that much as it is not possible.
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# RE: FloodingDeb Freele 2016-03-08 05:06
Quoting Observer:
To Deb and others, much of what is proposed is not possible due to flooding every year. No permanent structures can be built in the flood way. So do not expect that much as it is not possible.

Even better. I want a river that looks like a river, not a BLEEPing Expressway.
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# Paddling in PooJMAC 2016-03-07 01:39
Every-time we have a heavy rain in London raw sewage bypasses our several sewage control plants along the river and goes into the Thames.
This is a well documented fact(by the City...that place where Matt Brown works) and doesn't need an Environmental Assessment to sort out.
So when you dam the river downstream you get this wonderful filth being part of the mix....
Oh what a tourist draw.... Come paddle in our poo.Dine by our excrement.
Since the dam has been open the stench, algae and filthy water has disappeared.
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# Weasels and sneaksKallie Miller 2016-03-07 02:41
When I heard how badly Matt Brown wants the dam repaired and now linked to the Take Back the River project, I remembered what the winner of the design contest told me at the presentation of the five finalists at the Western Fair a few months ago. I asked every entrant at their respective displays if the dam had to be repaired for their design. To my delight all answered no . However, the winner of the competition told me after his "no dam needed" statement that a weir could be built to bring the level of the river up a bit at the forks. I did think it strange at the time and contacted Joni Baechler, who was on the deciding committee,and who assured me that there was a special stipulation for the designers, that the dam was not to be needed in the design.

Now with what is coming public, I see my gut feeling that something was off was right on. Is something sneaky going on with this issue?
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# Better dream and less grandioseKallie Miller 2016-03-07 02:46
Damn those weasels at the dam — Vicki Van Linden

Thank you for your great comment and suggestion Vicki. I totally agree with you.
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# EA Shenanigans alreadyTheodore Turtle 2016-03-07 09:49
Trying to tie the Back-to-the-Riv er project to the Springbank Dam via a combined Environmental Assessment is blatant political maneuvering by those who want the dam repaired and want the higher water levels at the river forks.

Such shenanigans compromise the integrity of the EA process.

The environmental issues with the two projects are completely different in both scope and significance and as such deserve separate EAs.
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# Don't Dam ItDave 2016-03-07 15:35
The Bridge To Nowhere that is part of the Back To The River plan will give us a view of what. Have you seen the river in the past couple of summers. There is not much river to see. With global warming, summers will become drier. The view of the river will be gravel and mud. Don't fix the dam and don't build this stupid walkway To Nowhere that will not do anything to attract tourists.
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# Are You Kidding?J. David Scott 2016-03-07 20:36
Oh, by all means repair the dam. Downtown London will have the sweet smell of sewage wafting about and the canoeists will be able to paddle around to their hearts' content in crap-filled waters. And as an added bonus, we'll be able to see the deterioration of the eco-system that has flourished since the dam broke down, destroyed.
Good thinking there, mayor Matty... Just imagine the tourists we'll draw to London. And think of the reputation we'll be building. Yes Matty, you're a genius!
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# A neurotic obsession?Leila Paul 2016-03-08 20:14
I understand how too much time as incumbents with no accountability makes City Hall managers deeply mired in their authoritarian belief they know better than most Londoners what's best, at least within their scope of self-interest. However, I do not understand how recently elected councillors can presume to spend more money on frivolous and superficial structures while ignoring what should be common sense about the health of the River.

More importantly, how can a recently elected council and mayor totally disregard the foundational needs of city's hard and essential infrastructure while lavishly throwing into a cesspool they'd be created even more money they hope to get from sources already stretched beyond logic with the burdens of debt.

While we lose ownership of money on deposit with a banks (who then become owners of our deposits, not trustees) I assume we still have some say in how taxes we've paid to city hall still must be spent in ways that ensure the public trust is not betrayed or dismissed with utter disdain.

This is not even clever sleight of hand. It's just pure brutish imposition of power.
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