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.