Where are we with Port Dover’s Misner Dam?

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Photo by Earl Hartlen and Brett Smith

By David Judd
NORFOLK County has spent more than $665,000 on the Misner Dam since 2009.
The money has been spent assessing safety concerns at the historic dam on the Lynn River and seeking permission to make repairs.
To date no repairs have been made. It’s not for lack of trying.
Repairing dams is a complicated process in Ontario requiring permission from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
And the ministry is not easily satisfied.
“It’s the single most frustrating item I’ve dealt with in 35 years as a (municipal) councillor,” Mayor Charlie Luke says.
Port Dover Coun. John Wells adds: “A turtle moves more quickly than we’ve been able to on this particular project.
“We’ve not done much but spend money.”
How has the county spent two-thirds of a million dollars?
Some big-ticket items include:
♦More than $275,000 for engineering and consultants’ reports.
♦Nearly $190,000 to dredge the Lynn River after heavy rains washed huge amounts of sediment over the dam in 2010. So much sediment plugged the river that there was concern boats wouldn’t get out of their boathouses.
♦And the county’s solicitor has received more than $32,000 for legal opinions about the dam’s ownership.
The solicitor, Peter Tice of Hamilton, says Norfolk does not own the dam.
The Maple Leaf recently filed two Freedom of Information requests for details of Norfolk’s spending on Misner Dam.
The county responded with figures for the period from 2009 to the end of 2014, totalling $628,000.
Mayor Luke in an interview cited another $39,000 for a soil contamination study in 2009.
Adding that study to the FOI figures brings the total to nearly $668,000.
More bills for consultants’ reports are on their way.
One report from consultant Stantec of Montreal expected this month may prove to be a turning point.
The report will offer short-term options to repair the dam — which is what county council wanted to do five years ago.
“I think the community is frustrated,” Coun. Wells says.
“They keep being told we’re working on it and there will be a report. Then there’s another report and the next report.
“Surely, there’ll be a time when we’re reported out.”
It seems, Coun. Well says, that all county council can do is wait for the next report and then spend money for more reports.
Coun. Wells says all he wants to do is repair Misner Dam to the state it was in before the engineer found problems in 2009.
When the dam is repaired, it will be time to look at what’s to be done with Silver Lake, he says.
The lake has lost much of its open water.
The dam’s water level was lowered in December 2009 as a safety precaution.
The lake has gradually choked with silt and vegetation and as a result a large part of its north end now is overrun with loosestrife.
Mayor Luke says the key thing is to repair the dam, then other things like restoring Silver Lake can happen.
In 2010 county council budgeted $1.1 million to repair the dam.
The county has spent $207,000 of this money.
The remainder — $892,000 — is still budgeted for the dam.
The mayor in his first year of office has made it a priority to move things along.
“I want this thing to be resolved,” he said in an interview in his office.
“Through no fault of anybody, it’s gone on too long.”
Mayor Luke can see how some people might think the county has nothing to show for all the money it has spent on Misner Dam.
But he said the reports show the dam built in 1856 is safe.
The mayor is optimistic that this month’s Stantec report will let county council know where it stands regarding short-term repairs.
“I hope in this term (ending in 2018) we can come to some conclusion on how and if to proceed.”
The million-dollar question, the mayor said, is whether the MNR will have enough information to allow the dam to be repaired.
And if the dam can be repaired, Mayor Luke said it makes sense to look at restoring Silver Lake.
County council has not discussed what to do, if anything, about the lake.
The Long Point Region Conservation Authority and the MNR have both said Norfolk should do an environmental assessment before trying to restore the lake.
The assessment would take a year and cost from $100,000 to $150,000.
Dredging the lake, if it happens, would be a huge project — say $4 million or $5 million — with multiple partners, Mayor Luke said.
The volunteer group Friends of Silver Lake has offered to lead efforts to raise $1 million to restore the lake.
Full restoration of the lake would cost more than the community could contribute, Friends member Ron Keating said in an interview.
Mr. Keating praised Mayor Luke’s efforts to move forward on Misner Dam.
It’s been five years since Norfolk first sought MNR permission to repair the dam, Mr. Keating noted.
“What’s wrong with the mechanisms of governments that for five years we have struggled, so far in vain, to repair a dam to put it back to the way it was?” he asked.
Government “can hardly be called responsive,” he said.
The first priority should be to repair the dam, Mr. Keating said.
Next establish ownership.
The federal and provincial governments won’t give money unless they know who owns the dam.
Finally, tackle the growing problem of sediment in Silver Lake.
Mr. Keating hopes Norfolk will hold a public meeting in Port Dover to discuss the Stantec report on short-term repairs.
For six years, Norfolk’s focus has been on repairing Misner Dam.
But that won’t be the long-term answer.
The MNR has said the dam should be removed from the river.
If not, it must be replaced and expanded to withstand a catastrophic flood.
Engineer Vallee last year estimated a new stronger dam would cost at least $10 million.

 

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