GP Photo: Pefferlaw Dam Closure

By: Mike Anderson

The Lake Simcoe Regional Conservation Authority (LSRCA) is facing a backlash from residents of Pefferlaw over its recent announcement that it’s shutting down operations at the Pefferlaw Dam this year, due to safety and liability issues raised by an engineering report completed in December 2019.

At issue is the metal bridge over the dam, which the LSRCA says is no longer safe enough to support work crews that install stop-logs – square timber logs – across the dam’s opening, restricting the flow of the water over the dam during the spring and summer months, thereby maintaining higher water levels in the reservoir behind the dam and along the upper river.

The engineering report also found structural concerns with the dam itself that require further investigation, raising concerns about substantial repair costs, which could lead to the eventual decommissioning of the dam.

According to the LSRCA website, without the placement of stop-logs, the river’s water level will “not be as high as usual,” impacting its recreational use and native flora, fauna and wildlife.

AdvertisementAdvertisement

“As a favourite spot for its picturesque views, nostalgic memories and recreational opportunities, we recognize these changes may be difficult,” reads the website.

“It’s like turning off the water to Niagara Falls,” said Haig Ampagoumian, a river property owner, who said the LSCRA’s decision has already dropped water levels by four feet, endangered wildlife, and lowered property values along the river bank.

“We bought our houses because of the river. We enjoy the river. We have to have access to the river. In my opinion, my riparian rights are being ignored.”

“The water level used to come up to the lip of my dock”: Ampagoumian

The LSRCA’s decision provoked more than 2,200 people to sign an online petition on Change.org calling for the Town of Georgina’s Mayor Margaret Quirk to rebuild the Pefferlaw Dam.

Although Mayor Quirk has indicated that the Town is prepared to look at “any funding opportunities and options with all supporting partners,” she would like to see further detailed structural analysis completed before it’s possible to move forward with repairing or rebuilding the dam.

LSRCA has commissioned a second more detailed engineering report, that will determine what repairs are needed, and, possibly, if some stop-logs could be added.

LSRCA is also conducting research to find out who actually owns the dam, which would allow it to defray some or all of the repair costs.

But this is not reassuring some residents, who feel that LSRCA may decide to eventually decommission the dam if alternate funding sources are not found.

Part of this distrust stems from how residents first found out about the LSRCA’s decision – by reading a post on the LSRCA website in mid-April, as no official notice was sent by the LSRCA or the Town to residents or property owners along the river.

LSRCA initially said it didn’t have to inform residents because it was a safety issue.

But that didn’t sit well with a lot of riverfront property owners.

So, on April 27, LSRCA issued a formal letter to them, outlining the changes they could expect to see this spring.

“The LSRCA is responsible for the immediate outcry because the decision was made without engaging the community,” said Karen Wolfe, a longtime resident of Pefferlaw and former publisher of The Post.

“When they finally did send out a communique, they made no mention of the fact that the people on the upper Pefferlaw River are part of the ecosystem. They talked about the wildlife, they talked about the aquatic creatures, but they didn’t talk about us. I have riparian rights to that river. And that makes me part of the ecosystem.”

LSRCA’s decision to downplay the environmental impact of its decision has also caused some controversy, as residents believe the changes will negatively affect wildlife habitats along the river.

“It is being impacted, and they’re trying to tell me it’s going to be better. That’s a PR argument,” said Ms. Wolfe, who successfully petitioned the province to change the name Pefferlaw Brook to Pefferlaw River.

The Post asked LSRCA to further clarify its position on the environmental impact of closing the dam.

“Animals do what they need to survive, adapting to what happens on the landscape. The wildlife surrounding Pefferlaw Dam is no exception,” said Susan Jagminas, a spokesperson for LSRCA, in an email response.

“It’s important to remember the local animals adapted when the dam was created, and they will also adapt to the brook conditions in 2020.”

Ms. Jagminas also said that the practice of damming the river has had a negative ecological impact on the river and shouldn’t be considered a “modern-day practice.”

“The dam and the pond are problematic of the local surrounding ecology. Damming the brook creates a host of environmental issues by altering the brook in an unnatural way,” she said.

“In fact, the Pefferlaw brook system is a naturally cool water system that is unnaturally warmed up because of the dam and the barrier prevents many species of fish from being able to travel upstream to spawn.”  

While there may be differences of opinion on the environmental impact of the LSRCA’s decision, no one is challenging the fact that property values are going to take a significant hit.

“With the water being low in the river, I’m looking at a huge mud bog,” said April Lensen, who’s home borders on a creek that meets the Pefferlaw River, upstream from the dam. She estimates she will take a $100,000 loss on her property if she sells.

“The value of my property is going to go down considerably as we don’t have much of anything to look at anymore.”

View of Creek & Pefferlaw River from April Lensen’s home

If LSRCA’s new engineering report finds that the dam’s integrity is compromised, and it’s not possible to insert stop-logs, residents have proposed other options.

Mr. Ampagoumian has suggested the use of a crane to lift stop-logs into place, inserting concrete blocks in the reservoir, or, even, deploying a steel curtain behind the dam.

But, so far, LSRCA has rebuffed these suggestions.

“The LSRCA is not prepared to discuss any interim options to increase the water level in the reservoir at this time,” said Mike Walters, LSRCA’s CAO, in an email response to Mr. Ampagoumian.

“As we have stated, this is a safety issue for our staff as well as anyone downstream of the dam. Both structures, the bridge and the dam itself are structurally in question.”

The LSRCA’s refusal to consider options has Mr. Ampagoumian frustrated, as he fears LSRCA’s lack of action could mean there is no resolution this summer.

“I’m not saying to put the logs in blindly. We don’t need to affect the dam,” he said. “There are different ways you can barrier up that that river on a temporary basis.”

Dave Harding, Ward 5 Councillor, said while a lot will depend on LSRCA’s next engineering report, he’s guardedly optimistic that a solution can be found. In a communique issued on May 10, he stated the following:

“I have asked the LSRCA to instruct the engineer to conduct these assessments as quickly as possible, while keeping in mind that the community is eager to find out if something can be done as an interim measure to lower the stop logs into place.

On your behalf, I am lobbying all levels of government to move swiftly to find an equitable and reasonable outcome to this situation.”

However, he said that if substantial repairs are required to the dam, LSRCA won’t be able to cover the cost and will have to look for funding from higher tier governments, including the province.

“What I want to do is try and get everybody to send emails to Premier Doug Ford. We need to lobby them, so they know that there’s a problem here. We will need money to resolve this,” he said.

Advertisement

1 COMMENT

  1. If the logs go in and the dam fails and floods out the residents downriver are the people advocating for this going to assume liability for the damage caused or are they going to expect the conservation authority and the government to fix the problem. As a Georgina taxpayer I don’t want to be on the hook for years of costly litigation.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here