The future of the problem plagued Springbank Dam returns to City Hall.
During Tuesday’s Civic Works Committee meeting, Councillors will consider a report from City staff that calls for a joint environmental assessment for the dam, and the Back to the River project.
A vote on the assessment was put off earlier this year after councillors decided to ask for unspecified legal advice.
Chippewas of the Thames, Oneida Nation of the Thames, and Munsee Delaware First Nation communities have called on London to decommission the Springbank Dam.
The reasons for fixing the dam hinge mostly on improving the recreational uses of the Thames River, such as canoeing, and improving the look of the area.
Since the ongoing legal battle was resolved, the World Wild Life Foundation and the Thames River Anglers Association have also called on the city not to fix the dam, allowing the river to flow naturally. The dam isn’t needed for flood control purposes.
The most recent revelation has been the resurgence of the endangered spiny softshell turtle in the area.
“In terms of our turtles, it created appropriate habitat for nesting, nursrey habitat for young turtles to grow safely, and safe areas for these animals to hiberate,” said Scott Gillingwater of the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority. “A river environment is already harsh and when you put in human influences, it can make if more difficult for these animals who are trying to survive.”
Gillingwater says the broken dam resulted in changes to the landscape and habitat that were beneficial for many species at risk.
“That included the re-vegetation of banks, changes in river channel, how the river flows, and changes in sediment dispersal,” said Gillingwater.
The Springbank Dam has been inoperable since 2006 when it was left open for repairs after a flood in 2000, but complications led to a lengthy court battle. The dispute was resolved late last year when the city was awarded $3.77-million.
The issue was dormant for years due to the legal battle but was revived in 2014 when Matt Brown, who was running for mayor at the time, made fixing the dam a campaign promise.
The master EA “One River” would assess the area from the Forks and Harris Park to the dam.
“I think the master plan approach makes a fair amount of sense and I think it’s important that we don’t pre-judge the outcome, or start with the outcome that we want and then work backwards to kind of get the process that would suit that,” said Councillor Jesse Helmer.
Helmer is confident a decision could soon be made on the future of the dam.
“Certainly I’m comfortable with making the different options for how we could proceed,” he said. “I think I’ve got the information I need to make a decision on how we could proceed at least on the decision making proceed itself.”
Councillor Stephen Turner feels moving forward with the EA before deciding on what to do with the dam is “out of sequence.”
“I understand the desire to move forward with a ‘One River’ master environmental assessment and it completely makes sense, but I think that has to be done once we’ve made the policy decision on the dam itself,” Turner said. “The forks, the dam, and the west dyke repairs are all under the same study, but we’ve only determined what we want to do with two out of the three projects.”
Mayor Matt Brown, among other city politicians, has pushed for an environmental assessment before making any decisions about the future of the dam.
The Civic Works Committee meeting starts at 4 p.m.
Photo by Travis Dolynny