Residents plead for Wingham's Howson Dam - June 28, 2018
BY DENNY SCOTT
While a group of concerned citizens in Wingham want to save and restore the Howson Dam, the sentiment from other organizations was clear: it has to go.
During North Huron Council’s June 18 meeting, letters and presentations from individuals fell on both sides of the issue. Those arguing to keep it cited tourism, aesthetics and individial memories of the site, while those against keeping the dam said it was a matter of safety and flood prevention.
Several individuals spoke to the issue saying the pond and dam were part of what drew them to Wingham in the first place 40 or more years ago.
Dave Shaw, who moved to the community 45 years ago, said that the pond used to bring hundreds of people in to swim, boat, fish and enjoy other recreational opportunities created by the dam. He also said that he witnessed wildlife through the site and has watched the structure crumble over the years.
“Now my personal thought is it’s an embarrassment to our town,” he said. “People, whether from town or passing through, would look up and say what a mess and rightfully so.”
He asked the council to start the process to replace the dam and restore the pond.
Ken Wood spoke about the safety that can be taught to high school students at the dam, pointing to a recent drowning in Toronto and saying that it could have been avoided if the victims had been better educated.
Sinclair Wardrop said there may be funds available to help with the cost, and said council needs to have the foresight and drive to repair the bridge.
Doyle Cullen lamented the loss of the ability to launch a boat in the community, saying that the loss of the dam and pond has caused people to go out of Wingham for recreational opportunities. He also said that young people who used to fish off the dam can no longer do so as the township closed it due to safety concerns.
Andy McBride, representing the community group trying to save the dam, questioned the study presented by KGS Group Inc., asking why it had classified the dam as such a hazard when, in the firm’s analysis of the dam, there was information contrary to such a classification.
After those deputations, Linda Heron, representing the not-for-profit Ontario Rivers Alliance, spoke to council, saying that naturalizing, or removing, the dam was the best way for the municipality to proceed.
She said that KGS failed to consider climate change in its analysis and said that the dam was in an even more precarious state than originally thought.
Heron continually stated that considering an 100-year storm wasn’t a sufficient measure any longer, refering to the fact that many flood plain and dam rulings are based on that metric. She said, with climate change, a 1,000-year storm needed to be considered when setting policy. Such a storm could cause significant damage to the existing dam structure, according to Heron.
According to the Ontario Rivers Alliance and Heron, naturalizing the dam, the least expensive option for North Huron going forward at $436,000, would improve water quality and temperature, aquatic habitat and health, tourism opportunities and sediment transport through the river. She also said it would increase resilience to climate change and align with North Huron’s strategic plan.
Council had limited comments on either presentation, with some specific questions directed to Heron she couldn’t answer, however later in the meeting, the Maitland Valley Conservation Authority (MVCA) weighed in on the issue via a letter to North Huron echoing some of Heron’s statements.
The letter, penned by Engineer and Flood and Erosion Safety Service Co-ordinator, Steve Jackson. labelled the dam as a danger to upstream lands.
“The Howson Dam is an obstruction in the river that increases the potential for flooding of land and development upstream of the dam,” Jackson said. “It is expected that the area upstream that is presently located in the flood plain can be reduced if the dam is removed.
“The dam is a bottleneck in the flood plain which increases the risk of flooding and flood damages upstream of the dam,” he continued.
Jackson went on to say that, if North Huron Council considers replacing the dam, a new flood plain map should be created so the dam can be designed to reduce the risk of flooding of development and lands upstream of the new structure.
In closing, Jackson said that repairing the existing structure would not meet the goals of reducing flood risks upstream of the dam.
Council received Jackson’s letter, and took no immediate action aside from collecting the comments for a future staff report.
With the degradation of the dam, North Huron is looking at least $430,000 to remove it, or as much as $7 million to replace it, with other options at price points in between.