Com­mu­nity ral­lies be­hind land­mark

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Hunt­ing­gville

Alocal, his­toric land­mark that’s been around for over one hun­dred and fifty years, the pic­turesque Hunt­ingville Dam, is be­ing threat­ened but, luck­ily, it has a lot of ‘friends’. Soon af­ter a Hunt­ingville res­i­dent learnt of the plans of

baby2011@stanstead-jour­nal.com the dam’s present own­ers, Bo­ralex, to de­com­mis­sion the elec­tri­cal gen­er­a­tor at the dam and lower the dam’s wall sig­nif­i­cantly, he or­ga­nized a meet­ing of the town’s res­i­dents.

“When I first read about the project in the Lan­tern, it was like a bomb go­ing off,” said Michael Dur­rant, who grew up in Hunt­ingville. “I read about it in June, then there was noth­ing more about it in the July news­let­ter so I got ner­vous. I put no­tices in ev­ery­one’s mail­boxes an­nounc­ing a meet­ing in Au­gust; I was amazed at the turnout. We formed the cit­i­zens group at that meet­ing and ev­ery­one there signed up. We have sixty-four mem­bers,” said Mr. Dur­rant, a Bi­ol­ogy teacher at Cham­plain Col­lege. “There are a few of us who are very im­pli­cated: Carl Hunt­ing, Di­dier Ran­court, Marie France Gelinas, and my par­ents, Bruce and Wendy Dur­rant, who have helped a lot,” he added.

Ac­cord­ing to Mr. Dur­rant, Bo­ralex wants to end its op­er­a­tion of the elec­tri­cal gen­er­a­tor at the dam be­cause it’s no longer prof­itable. How­ever, Que­bec laws dic­tate that dams above a cer­tain height must be main­tained, so Bo­ralex can ei­ther spend more money to re­in­force the dam’s struc­ture or lower the dam wall by about two me­ters, an ac­tion that would dra­mat­i­cally af­fect the Salmon River and its banks, not to men­tion the look of the his­toric dam.

The aims of the group, called “Friends of the Hunt­ingville Dam”, are sim­ple: to pre­serve the Hunt­ingville Dam at its cur­rent height and, by do­ing so, also pre­serve the Salmon River. “If the dam was lower, the reser­voir would drain. There have been times when the dam wasn’t oper­a­tional; the river turned into a creek. There was also lots of ero­sion to river­side prop­erty. So many aquatic birds, beavers, muskrats, fish and am­phib­ians would lose their habi­tats,” ex­plained the Bi­ol­ogy teacher.

“An­other goal is to pre­serve the dam’s his­toric value. It is the sym­bolic cen­ter of Hunt­ingville. The town was founded in 1815 and the dam fol­lowed shortly af­ter. In pre­serv­ing the dam we also pre­serve the recreo-touris­tic as­pect of the area. Peo­ple come to paint the dam, take pho­tos of it, it’s in tourist pam­phlets and it’s an at­trac­tion along the Town­ships Trail.”

The Friends of the Hunt­ingville Dam have been ac­tive since they united un­der their com­mon goal just three months ago. They have met with fac­ulty mem­bers from the Univer­sité de Sher­brooke’s En­gi­neer­ing Depart­ment and showed them around the site, also ar­rang­ing a meet­ing be­tween Bo­ralex and the univer­sity. “The Univer­sity ex­pressed an in­ter­est in us­ing the dam pos­si­bly for train­ing,” said Michael.

Mem­bers of the group at­tended an in­for­ma­tion ses­sion pre­sented by Bo­ralex in Septem­ber, learn­ing about an en­vi­ron­men­tal study of the plan. “We felt that the en­vi­ron­men­tal study was not very in-depth. It missed an en­tire branch of the river and they didn’t know that many of the res­i­dents along the river had sur­face wells. We also don’t know if there would be an in­creased risk of flood­ing if the dam was not there. His­tor­i­cal notes say that the water level was very un­sta­ble be­fore the dam. We were hop­ing to get an­swers from that en­vi­ron­men­tal study.”

Ear­lier this month, Michael made a pre­sen­ta­tion about pre­serv­ing the dam to the Sher­brooke mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil, de­posit­ing a pe­ti­tion with over five hun­dred sig­na­tures at the same time. “I asked the city to work to­wards hav­ing it named a his­tor­i­cal site. I had to re­mind them that Sher­brooke is the ‘City of Rivers’,” said Mr. Dur­rant.

Asked if the Len­noxville Bor­ough Coun­cil seemed sup­port­ive of the plan to save the dam, he replied: “Yes, es­pe­cially Mark Mclaugh­lin who’s been a huge amount of help.”

Hunt­ingville res­i­dents are ral­ly­ing to­gether to save their beloved land­mark. “Ross Hunt­ing has supplied his­tor­i­cal in­for­ma­tion about the dam and other res­i­dents have given us pic­tures of the river when the reser­voir was drained. In all of Hunt­ingville, only one per­son didn’t want to sign the pe­ti­tion. Some peo­ple don’t want to lose the dam be­cause of its his­tor­i­cal value, oth­ers worry about the en­vi­ron­men­tal changes, some are prop­erty own­ers wor­ried about the ero­sion of their land. A Comp­ton res­i­dent said they brought groups of artists there to paint. Ev­ery­one has their own rea­sons for want­ing to pre­serve the dam,” com­mented Michael.

Asked how he would de­fend the group’s aims to those who be­lieve change is in­evitable, Mr. Dur­rant said: “If we can pre­vent changes that will have neg­a­tive ef­fects on peo­ple and the environment, then why not?”

Ob­vi­ously de­ter­mined to pre­serve the Hunt­ingville Dam at its present height, I asked Michael what drove him to get per­son­ally in­volved. “Grow­ing up in Hunt­ingville I know how spe­cial the dam is to the com­mu­nity, his­tor­i­cally and en­vi­ron­men­tally. I don’t like hav­ing some­thing that im­por­tant to the com­mu­nity mod­i­fied with neg­a­tive ef­fects. I’ve gone ca­noe­ing, kayak­ing and swim­ming in that river and played ball at the ball park that goes right up to the river­bank. We could lose that too. It was kind of de­press­ing ca­noe­ing on the river last sum­mer and think­ing it could be the last time. All those things are im­por­tant to me but the most im­por­tant rea­son I got in­volved was be­cause of the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact. There’s so much that we can’t do any­thing about, like oil spills. But this is some­thing that I can do some­thing about to make a dif­fer­ence.”

Mr. Dur­rant is hope­ful that the Hunt­ingville Dam will be saved. “I think the Sher­brooke mu­nic­i­pal coun­cilors are rea­son­able peo­ple who care about the needs of the cit­i­zens and about the her­itage of Sher­brooke. I’m op­ti­mistic they will find a so­lu­tion.”

photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

The owner of the his­toric and pic­turesque Hunt­ingville Dam, Bo­ralex, is con­sid­er­ing low­er­ing the dam’s wall and re­turn­ing the Salmon River to its orig­i­nal state.

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