By DAVID JUDD
The future of the Misner Dam looks to be headed back to the drawing board.
It promises to be an expensive and time-consuming exercise.
Norfolk County’s three-year quest for permission to repair the aging dam on the Lynn River in Port Dover will come to the end of the line this month, almost certainly without success.
County officials will meet soon with the Ministry of Natural Resources.
But the odds are heavily weighted against the ministry allowing Norfolk to repair the century-old dam.
A study ordered by the MNR and recently completed for Norfolk County has found that Misner Dam, if repaired, would not meet the ministry’s standard of being able to cope with a super flood caused by a storm stronger than Hurricane Hazel.
And new, tougher regulations for work on dams take effect on April 1.
Anything Norfolk does with the dam in the future, including replacing or removing it, will require an environmental assessment.
An assessment would likely take a year and cost about $400,000, estimates Ron Keating of the community group Friends of Silver Lake.
The existing dam, even if repaired, will not withstand the storm envisioned by the MNR, consulting engineer John Vallee told county councillors last Tuesday, Feb. 26.
The county lowered the dam and partly drained Silver Lake in December 2009 as a safety precaution.
An inspection by Mr. Vallee’s firm in 2010 found the dam’s structure was unsafe and had a high hazard potential.
Council set aside $1.1 million and sought MNR permission to make repairs that would return the dam to the condition it was in before 2009.
The ministry twice responded by demanding a water flow study.
Council hired Conestoga Rovers of Waterloo late last year to do the study. Mr. Vallee presented the results on Feb. 26.
His report to council made clear that repairs would not satisfy the MNR’s requirement that the dam withstand a super storm that would send 11 feet (3.2 metres) of water over the top of the dam and around both sides to flood neighbouring properties downstream.
As a ballpark guess, Mr. Vallee said repairing the dam, buying adjacent land and installing spillways or other structures would cost at least $10 million, not counting the costs of an environmental assessment, environmental cleanup and other expenses.
Mr. Vallee did not estimate how much removing the dam might cost. However, in a 2010 report he pegged its cost at $900,000.
And if Norfolk does nothing?
The dam would keep deteriorating and eventually someone will determine it a public safety issue because it might fail in a storm, Mr. Vallee said.
In that event, the MNR has power to force action, Mr. Vallee said.
Who would pay? “Your guess is as good as mine,” Mr. Vallee said.
The MNR would look for the dam’s owner, he said. Suspects might include Norfolk County, the Long Point Region Conservation Authority, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans or private landowners.
Norfolk County has legal advice that it does not own the dam.
Councillors unanimously voted to wait until after this month’s meeting with the MNR before deciding what to do next.
“If there’s no change in the MNR’s position, there’s trouble in River City,” Port Dover Coun. John Wells said in an interview.
Coun. Wells said he’s hopeful saner heads will prevail and the MNR will, even at the 11th hour, permit Norfolk to repair the dam.
But he cautioned that Norfolk is dealing with bureaucrats who must defend their turf.
“They just cannot bend rules at will,” he said. “They have particularly strict rules to follow.”
Coun. Wells said the county cannot complete an application for repairs before the MNR’s new regulations take effect April 1.
Replacing or removing the dam will require an environmental assessment that will open a real Pandora’s box and take years, he said.
“The majority of people in Ward 6 (Port Dover and Woodhouse) want the dam restored but will they invest $10 million-plus to see it restored?” he asked.
In 2009, council wanted to repair the dam, he said.
“Now we know we are endangering property and the whole community by doing nothing and whose responsibility is that?”
Coun. Wells added: “The more we get into it, the bigger the issue becomes.”
He said it’s unlikely that the MNR or provincial government will find millions of dollars for a new structure.
“It’s nothing but bad news,” Mayor Dennis Travale said during council discussion Feb. 26.
Mayor Travale said the county’s motivation was honest and honorable when it became involved with Misner Dam on an emergency basis.
The mayor said council has done everything it can to move the issue along.
However, he said, things won’t be resolved quickly because of what the MNR dictates.
Norfolk has never maintained or operated the dam, the mayor said.
To people who say they have never seen the Lynn River overflow the road or banks, Mayor Travale said people in Brooklyn and Long Island said the same thing before Superstorm Sandy.
Waterford Coun. Harold Sonnenberg asked if there would be less chance of flooding if Misner Dam were removed.
There would be less flooding at Silver Lake but possibly more downstream, Mr. Vallee replied.
An environmental assessment would be required before removing the dam, added Eric D’Hondt, the county’s general manager of public works and environmental services.
Norfolk has spent between $450,000 and $475,000 on Misner Dam since 2009, Mr. D’Hondt said in an interview.
Most of this money was spent on dredging below the dam and on consultants and reports.