UTRCA of­fi­cially can­cels lin­ger­ing dam project

The Beacon Herald - - NEWS - GALEN SIM­MONS STAFF RE­PORTER

Though it has been on the books as a multi-mil­lion-dol­lar cap­i­tal project for more than 40 years, the Up­per Thames River Con­ser­va­tion Au­thor­ity of­fi­cially can­celled a mas­sive Thames River dam and reser­voir project on the bor­der of West Perth and Perth South this week.

The pro­posed project, which was to be called the Glen­gowan Dam and Reser­voir, was first con­ceived in 1952, shortly after the con­ser­va­tion au­thor­ity was es­tab­lished, to pro­vide flood con­trol and flow aug­men­ta­tion for all down­stream com­mu­ni­ties.

The project’s in­tent was later con­firmed by the Thames River Wa­ter Man­age­ment Study in 1975, which, based on the science and un­der­stand­ing at the time, rec­om­mended the dam and reser­voir as the best way to deal with flood­ing and wa­ter qual­ity prob­lems.

“Work started in the ’70s to as­sem­ble land and get ev­ery­thing in place to de­velop the project, but then in the early ’80s things kind of slowed down,” said Ian Wil­cox, the con­ser­va­tion au­thor­ity’s gen­eral man­ager.

“There was recog­ni­tion that there might be other ways of achiev­ing the flood con­trol and wa­ter-qual­ity ben­e­fits that were in­tended with the dam – other ways that aren’t so in­tru­sive.”

Since then, Wil­cox said the St. Marys dike, known lo­cally as the flood wall, was built to help with flood con­trol in the com­mu­nity while ad­di­tional work on flood con­trol in­fra­struc­ture in Lon­don was com­pleted, mak­ing the dam and reser­voir project – in­tended to be the same size and scale as Wild­wood, Fan­shawe, and Pit­tock – un­nec­es­sary.

But still, the project re­mained on the books at the Up­per Thames River Con­ser­va­tion Au­thor­ity, and staff was di­rected to con­tinue buy­ing up land in the area in prepa­ra­tion for shov­els to hit the dirt.

How­ever, fund­ing cuts in the mid1990s put a halt to the con­ser­va­tion au­thor­ity’s land-buy­ing ini­tia­tive after it pur­chased only 25 per cent – about 525 hectares – of the needed land.

“It re­ally lim­ited our abil­ity to do any­thing on Glen­gowan, so it just sat there for 20 years,” Wil­cox said.

Dur­ing that time, the con­ser­va­tion au­thor­ity con­tin­ued to rent out farm­land and homes within the pur­chased lands, and re­tired mar­ginal farm­land with the goal of nat­u­ral­iz­ing the flood plain.

Now, Wil­cox says the area is one of the health­i­est and most beau­ti­ful stretches of the Thames River.

Yet while some of the land was re­turned to its nat­u­ral state, area politi­cians have been frus­trated with a lack of in­for­ma­tion over the past two decades as to whether the project was mov­ing ahead or not.

Ac­cord­ing to Wil­cox, the ques­tion of whether the land was to be flooded and turned into a reser­voir came up ev­ery time the county or any of the town­ships and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in the area had to com­plete

Work started in the ’70s to as­sem­ble land and get ev­ery­thing in place to de­velop the project, but then in the early ’80s things kind of slowed down.” Ian Wil­cox

bridge and road work through the project lands.

Now that the project has of­fi­cially been can­celled, West Perth Mayor and Perth County War­den Wal­ter McKen­zie said plan­ning for mu­nic­i­pal pro­jects and main­te­nance in the area will be much less com­pli­cated.

“It frees up some long-term plan­ning. … It is a good thing. It’ll help out for long-range plan­ning – whether it’s roads or what it is,” McKen­zie said. “Every­one’s been won­der­ing for quite a few years about what was go­ing to hap­pen with this.”

Though the Up­per Thames River Con­ser­va­tion Au­thor­ity board of di­rec­tors has not yet made a de­ci­sion as to what to do with the land, Wil­cox said he would like to see the land along the river kept in the con­ser­va­tion au­thor­ity’s own­er­ship so it can main­tain the health of that por­tion of the water­shed.

As for whether that land can be adapted for pub­lic use through the es­tab­lish­ment of a trail sys­tem or if the vi­able farm­land owned by the con­ser­va­tion au­thor­ity will be sold off, that’s still up for dis­cus­sion at both the board level and through pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion.

“I would think (West Perth and Perth County) would be very sup­port­ive of (adapt­ing the land for pub­lic use), whether it’s for trails, or it’s for snow­mo­bile trails, or what have you,” McKen­zie said.

Ac­cord­ing to Wil­cox, the Glen­gowan Dam and Reser­voir project was bud­geted at $18 mil­lion in the late 1970s, which he be­lieves would have trans­lated to well over $100 mil­lion to­day.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

The mas­sive, multi-mil­lion-dol­lar Glen­gowan Dam and Reser­voir project was to be built on a sec­tion of the Thames River be­tween Mitchell and St. Marys, near the Vil­lage of Mother­well.

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