Philip Mcleod

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Suspicions haunt the dam

REPORT #1,143: Londoners may love their Thames River, but questions loom over the way the campaign to tie the Springbank Dam to a proposed project at the Forks of the Thames threaten to undo everything. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016 – LondonOntario

Two things certain emerged from Tuesday night’s long, long public participation meeting and subsequent debate over the future of Springbank Dam on the Thames River in LondonOntario.

The first is many, many Londoners, despite varying degrees of interest over the years and regardless of their specific point of view about the recreational dam, care about the Thames River. 

The second is a growing number of city councillors are becoming suspicious about the validity of information they are getting – or not – from the civic administration’s senior leadership. 

So, where does that leave that damn dam?

Well for starters, it could both intensify and confuse the ongoing political argument. In turn that will make it more difficult to find a widely acceptable method of resolving the question – what Mayor Matt Brown (pro dam) and the administration (pro dam) both refer to as “a made in London decision,” whatever that means.

Certainly the civic administration’s preferred method of doing so is now in disrepute. That would see the fate of the dam tied directly to the future of Back to the River, the glitzy plan to re-energize the Forks of the Thames. 

The administration argues each is dependent on the other. But, as more than one councillor pointed out Tuesday night, that simply isn’t true. The fate of the dam is dependent only upon the will of council. The future of Back to the River, on the other hand, might well be altered by what happens with the dam, but it certainly isn’t determined by it.

As Tanya Park, councillor for Ward 13, put it so well: “The staff report (on the dam) we received on this agenda is one of the most biased things I’ve ever read.”

And Phil Squire, councillor for Ward 6, was forced to remind John Lucas, perhaps unfairly forced into the role as the administration’s mouthpiece for the report, that “you didn’t answer my question.” Twice. 

Of course, it was a difficult question for Mr. Lucas to answer with his boss’ boss in the room. That would be the artful dodger, City Manager Art Zuidema, who seldom speaks at council or committee meetings but often whispers into the ears of his minions who do, as he did Tuesday night during the debate. 

The upshot of it all, just past midnight and after three hours of public comments and two hours of debate by council’s civic works committee, was a compromise motion that would see a master environmental assessment covering both the dam and the forks, subject to the ability of council to decommission the dam at any point in the process, and further subject to the administration providing a fulsome answer – including cost and time savings – to the advantages of a single environmental assessment over one for each. 

There are enough votes to force two environmental assessments – which would be the right thing to do – when council next meets on March 22. Someone, though, needs to put the argument more clearly and simply to council than was done Tuesday night. 

Obviously that will not be Mayor Brown, whose election promise to fix the dam is now driving the issue. Nor will it be the civic administration, which curiously almost seems desperate to see the two issues joined at the hip. 

As for the public part of Tuesday’s gathering, the damn-the-dam side won narrowly on points but there were some well-argued positions both ways. Judging by audience reaction, two of the best opposed fixing the dam. There were also a number of worthy written submissions, which you can find here.

Chief Leslie White-eye, chief of the Chippewa of the Thames who hold land downstream from the dam under a treaty signed in 1796, noted it is a requirement of Canadian law to consult with First Nations on such issues. That was not done on previous dam projects.

“We've lived here for centuries and our rights are protected under constitutional law,” she said. “Our laws are just as relevant to the project as those of the province and federal governments.” 

She also argued council needed to be looking at the big picture in relation to the dam and the river. “It’s time to put away our short-term goals for the river and think about the long-term future.”

Vicki Van Linden, a somewhat reluctant citizen activist, declared there’s no middle ground in the debate. 

“This idea that the only way you can enjoy the natural world is to manipulate it, there is something wrong with that. I would say whenever you have a chance to leave nature alone that's the right choice. Let's just leave this river to all the beautiful creatures that actually need it. 

“We can't financially afford this dam, or Back to the River. We're not allocating money to help poor people, were not building affordable housing, we're not dealing with flop houses. We're not a very good family here in London. When we got a windfall from London Hydro we packed it into a fund so we could decorate the river bank. We didn't put it into a fund to help people who live in absolute misery.”

Time will tell whether council was listening. Let’s hope so. 

About that damn dam

When fully operational Springbank Dam backs up the Thames River for four months of the summer to create an eight kilometre pond. The civic administration says the resulting additional depth of water at the Forks of the Thames is about 18 inches. 

Providing this recreational habitat for humans with small boats is the dam’s only purpose, and has been for more than 100 years. Early in this century it was wrecked by high water in a storm. 

A new dam was built in 2005 at a cost of $6.8 million, some $2.8 million of which was paid by the provincial and federal governments; 

A year later, while being tested, one gate malfunctioned and stuck and the dam has remained open ever since. The city subsequently sued the contractor and recently won a $3.775 million cash settlement. During a recent test, a second gate also malfunctioned, throwing into question the whole design of the existing mechanics. 


# Time for Council to Tell Its hapless Leader Who is In ChargeJMAC 2016-03-10 04:42
Matt Brown is not a leader
The failed Industrial land strategy ...all but abandoned when the Feds and the Province never joined in.See Matt run.
What happened to Matts tour of Police Services in Ontario to demonstrate how to negotiate a contract? Oh...the contract is now mired in a potential budget battle.Cancel the tickets!!
How about the strike? Matt wanted to be the face of the strike and then spent time hiding from the media.
What about the multi year budget He just blends into nothingness. The budget comes in beyond its target... a failure.
His Poverty Panel? See Matt run... see Matt hide when the price tag is unveiled.
That brings us to the dam debate. The reason the report sounded so slanted was because it was.
City Manager Art of Brantford will do anything to keep Matt happy.
Art kept his job with the last Council because Matt and Paul Hubert went to huge lengths to save him. Its payback time.
Raw politics with lots of backroom pressure. Council is finally seeing they aren't part of the selfies is only Art and Matty.
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# Dam must be unchained from "Back to the River"Leila Paul 2016-03-10 08:15
It's deceitful to claim one relies on the other. Get rid of the dam. Just get it out of the River and allow nature to take its course. Then DO NOT spend any money on frivolous cartoonish displays of caricatured people gloriously walking the concrete plank over the river as they laugh and merrily enjoy an implied prosperity.

Taxpayers must DEMAND the sewage system upgrades to respect the natural needs of the river smothering now in crap while resients also suffer sewage flooding in their homes.

To spend money on anything other that removing the dam, upgrading the sewer systems. Taxpayers must demand the right to breathe free of the pressures of unjustified expenses on a Back to the River project that is mere frivolity.

Back to the River is such an old concept done over and over in US cities. It was a project when I worked in New Orleans and it failed, as it has in the other cities. It cannot save a city but it can sink a city and its taxpayers.
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# Damn the DamJ. David Scott 2016-03-10 08:32
Little mayor Matty is a bloody joke (see the excellent comment by JMAC above) and is a Zuidema puppet. It's time this council lets Brantford Zuidema know he does their bidding, not the other way around.
Reaking havoc with the eco-system of the Thames for 18 inches of water so a few people can paddle around in a crap-filled cesspool is irresponsible as well as myopic. As Vicki Van Linden says, in effect, leave it alone! We have more important things to take care of in London. This is bread and circuses.
Enough of Browns' follies.
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# Amazing(ly bad) Idea!Gino Nicodemo 2016-03-10 12:52
Years ago, certain members of the London Rowing Club were quite well-connected to City Hall. Is this what is REALLY driving this really, really stupid (and expensive) idea of re-building the dam? Might be worth looking at their current membership list, to see if there is any correlation.
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# Tail wagging the dog !Scott Sproul 2016-03-10 15:12
Most importantly, JMAC wrote what many of us feel, unfortunately taxpayers are accustomed to suggestions falling on deaf ears.

Council members are elected to represent the interests of the Ward regardless of how "they" feel. The general consensus from taxpayers is allow the river to flow, and shelf the Ribbon. With this in mind, why do certain council members go against the taxpayer who voted them in and prolonging this useless debate.

I would suggest each Ward have input from taxpayers as to which way to proceed, thus reflecting OUR choice which would truly demonstrate democracy and transparency.

It's time council members stopped dictating and started listening !!
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# The "divine right" of councillors?Leila Paul 2016-03-11 04:55
Scott, you're making a crucial point that is so long and so often ignored. Once a person is elected some of them seem to think they've been ordained with the divine right to impose their preferences and displace the will of voters with their own will.

Even monarchs eventually had their absolute right to impose decisions or preferences limited by a notion that is quickly fading - the obligation to REPRESENT the will of the majority and to act cautiously in the fiduciary interests of the people.

This council started out with a lot of hope and trust from voters after the disaster of the previous council. They know full well the wave of righteousness on which they rode into office..

Councillors who choose to repair the dam violate nature at the peril of all Londoners and Ontarians downstream. They also throw away more good money after bad.

London needs funds to be kept as a buffer if the economy worsens in the near future. It's contemptuous of taxpayers to also be talking about frivolous boardwalks or concrete walks until we know if jobs are coming back to London.
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# London's Dam Spending & Indebtedness Can't HoldTom Won 2016-03-10 15:45
London you have every reason to be concerned...

At the end of 2015, the total issued debt is expected to be $334.1

The City’s 2016 annual debt repayment limit is expected to be $136 million, an amount that would
support approximately $1 billion of debt (4.5% for 10-year term).

As per 2016-2019 Multi-Year Proposed Budget;
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# The mayor is tone deafTheodore Turtle 2016-03-10 17:24
The old stop-log Springbank Dam which required a four-person crew to operate/ change was closed for six months of the year to create a reservoir (May to October) and open six months of the year (November to April).

The plan for the new so-called "push-button" hydraulic dam which doesn't work, has never worked and likely will never work, was for a shorter operational period of five months of the year (June to October) when the reservoir would be in place.

Environmentally and financially it's bad news. Get rid of the dam.
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# Dam ownershipBrenda Rowe 2016-03-10 17:36
Does The City of London own the dam? Can we sell the dam to another city, perhaps simply for the cost of removal? We don't really need that dam. I'll bet there's somewhere that does and can't afford a new one.
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# Dam ConcernsNL 2016-03-10 18:36
I cringe when I hear "Staff Study" & "Zuidema". Our City abuses studies! How much do we need to understand about this issue. Dam was a fortune-Dam broke-Test Done-another Gate broke! The Dam was broken all this time- the river has done fine and people are canoeing down it in summer. It is OVER-Over for the Canoe Club wannabes-let it be. I'm not comfortable with our City Manager,Staff needs to deal with existing issues. I am aghast City ignored First Nations input.Save this money,let's not mirror any American City and allow our River and water-life to reflect its natural beauty within our City. Enough on the debate! Sorry Mr. Brown-- if you promised it, we forgive you if you have to change your mind & Nature will love you.
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# RE: Suspicions haunt the dambill brock 2016-03-10 21:30
Time to close the deal: Councillor Park has told it like it is. Remove the dam from any further discussion. No rebuilding of the dam! Later on approach Federal Govt. for decommissioning . Immediately everybody needs to ask the question the Mayor and staff have overstepped their authority and under stepped their transparency. Who is left to present all the facts and options? According to Free Press today staff will have more information for Council meeting. Really isn't it out of sequence?
If bias fits what happened you should get used to it as the push for LRT continues to appear the same approach.
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# To TomCynic 2016-03-10 22:16
City pays a lower percentage than 4.5 percent for 10 yrs. chill
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# Matt Brown's NostalgiaTheodore Turtle 2016-03-11 11:16
At the public participation meeting on March 8th, Mayor Brown indicated his support for repairing the dam was based on his days of canoeing on the river with his father.

In other words, he's prepared to damage the river's ecosystem again with the unnecessary dam and the reservoir it creates because of his memories and longing for the past.

About a bad a reason I can think of for setting public policy. So apparently he doesn't believe the widely accepted aquatic and biology sciences which clearly indicate dams are bad for rivers.

Time to get rid of Brown in the next election. He's a dud.
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# London needs a MayorTucker 2016-03-11 17:59
Letter to our “controlled puppet” at London’s City Hall.

Dear puppet, Londoners wanted a self-made leader with vision with TOTAL concern for only one thing, Londoners.

Instead we voted in a typical, common, follower……….an Ontario teacher, who does what he or she is told to do…….when and where.

May we suggest you hand in your letter of resignation so Londoners can again search for a real Mayor for our City, as many of us don’t want EXPENSIVE WASTE which is typical from your existence?

PS: As for some of the rookies……oh……th e hell with them.
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# Is it time to implement a system of true self-governance ?Leila Paul 2016-03-11 23:09
Adulation is heaped on the word "democracy" without ever fully defining it or even implementing what we define.

There are certain issues that must be out of the reach of untrained, but seemingly democratiaclly elected persons to make long-lasting decisions. Those are often dictated by an small group who has financed their election or who have formed a large enough single-minded lobby to get their implementers elected.

Then these people are given the ability to make decisions by various means that are usually irreversible, expensive and badly understood.

This is especially true in times of crisis. No additional expenditures must be permitted while interference with natural tendencies of nature. These are aspects of our natural world which we cannot ever fully understand and must not be permitted to impede in any way but instead to take the cue from nature itself on how we can be the guardians of our sources of life.

Money is a fabricated illusion but spending fictitious funds creates liabilities we cannot fully comprehend. Thus responsible conduct must be guided by caution and not infantile fantasies.
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# Pensions and Payrolls possibly underfundedLeila Paul 2016-03-15 11:16
If so, taxpayers may no longer be able to pay both mortgage and property taxes.

Most people accept the smooth assurances there's nothing to worry about. Income or welfare cheques will go on forever. That's possibly, if not likely, false.

Banks can default as well. Canadian banks are now also obligated to bail out other banks signatory to the Third Basel Accord. Liabilities of Canadian banks are hard to discover, but they're members of the G20 FSB Accord in Seoul. Do some research. A 200 year old British law says banks own the deposits of depositors who remain unsecured creditors and banks can legally confiscate their deposits for bail-outs or bail-ins.

We may be facing a perfect storm of economic collapse. Meanwhile we have a bloated city hall and a seemingly clueless council talk of spending millions more. Both the feds and province are beyond life support as they rely on more debt-growth borrowing. Was it Paul Martin who expanded the G8 to G20?

Are plans being discussed for possible collapses of pensions and payrolls? Do we have ANY rational leadership at ANY level discussing contingencies?
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