By: Mike Anderson
It was welcome news for Pefferlaw residents as the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) Board of Directors approved “minor” repairs to the Pefferlaw Dam, which will allow it to operate this summer.
On July 24, the LSRCA’s Board approved a recommendation to repair the truss supports for the bridge, which will allow for the safe installation of stoplogs, thereby ensuring higher water levels in the dam’s reservoir and the upper Pefferlaw River.
An engineering report commissioned by the LSRCA indicated that the truss bridge could be operated safely as long as the critical welding repairs are completed prior to operation.
Those repairs will now be done “as soon as possible,” with the costs, approximately $5,000, shared by the Town of Georgina. However, the bridge will remain closed to pedestrians.
The report also states that the dam will require more substantial repairs going forward, including concrete rehabilitation and the replacement of the pedestrian bridge and truss, which could cost over $600,000 and must be completed within the next five years.
Still, questions remain whether LSRCA will continue to maintain the dam past 2020.
During the virtual meeting, LSRCA CAO Mike Walters said that operating the dam is not part of LSRCA’s mandate, and the substantial repair costs necessary for its long-term viability exceed its financial resources.
“We would not be able to obtain funding from the province to do this because the structure itself is not considered a flood control structure. It is for the purposes of recreation. We do not have the financial resources to fix the structure. And that’s the hard truth,” said Mr. Walters, who also added that decommissioning the dam might be better for the environment.
“Our policy is that we remove dams because they’re harmful to the environment. They block fish passage. They backup sediment and pollutants. They make the water warmer. And they reduce the oxygen within the water downstream for other species.”
However, aside from environmental concerns, several Board members stressed the importance of the dam to the residents of Pefferlaw, and the need to keep it operating.
“I know there’s a lot of concern in the Pefferlaw community because the river and dam are the heart and soul of Pefferlaw,” said Georgina Mayor Margaret Quirk.
“A number of the residents have contacted me with their concerns and wanting to see the stoplogs be put back in and the dam rehabilitated.”
Mayor Quirk was able to convince the Board to defer voting on a recommendation that would see the LSRCA “permanently discontinue” operation of the Pefferlaw Dam until the ownership issue is cleared up and public consultations can take place.
According to an LSRCA staff report, the Town of Georgina conveyed the adjacent properties to the dam to the conservation authority in the 1980s, to access government funding to repair and rehabilitate the dam.
After the repairs were completed, the dam was to be transferred back to the Town; however, that never happened.
Instead, the LSRCA continued “in-good faith” to operate the dam annually with the installation and removal of stoplogs and flashboards to create the reservoir.
However, the actual ownership of the dam itself remains in question. So, the LSRCA has asked the province to conduct a review of its archives.
Once the ownership issue is resolved, LSRCA will look at various options, including transferring ownership of the dam, along with repair and operating costs, to the Town of Georgina, which, according to Board Chair Wayne Emmerson, has a better chance to tap into various levels of government funding.
While Mayor Quirk agreed to contribute to the cost of the welding repairs and expressed support for the dam’s rehabilitation, that final decision will rest with the council.
The format of the public consultations is also up for discussion, as Ontario’s Stage 3 protocols prevent interior meetings of more than 50 people.
Several options were put forward, including meeting with a smaller committee representing the interests of Pefferlaw residents.
Reaction to the LSRCA Board decision was generally positive from Pefferlaw residents.
“It doesn’t give us an exact okay we’re doing it. We’re spending the money. But Mayor Quirk wants to do that, and that’s important,” said Haig Ampagoumian, a river property owner, who’s been lobbying to replace the stoplogs this summer.
“I feel very positive. I feel Mayor Quirk is behind the residents, and she will do what it takes funding wise to get this looked after.”
Karen Wolfe, who presented a deputation to the board, and co-founded Friends of the Dam, a community lobby group, agrees.
“We’re happy about the fact that we’re going to have some water in the river this summer,” she said.
“So we hope to see something by the middle of August. We’re pleased about that because, in all honesty, we are concerned about the environmental impact of having no water. They don’t seem do agree with us on that. But they don’t live here either.”
However, despite the win, Ms. Wolfe expects the real lobbying work will begin when the Town starts to consider the ownership issue.
“I felt Mayor Quirk sounded very conciliatory and that she wanted to work with us. I think she understands; you know that 3000 people have signed a petition, and there aren’t many more people in Pefferlaw proper than that. So, I’m hoping that she gets support from the rest of the council. And I think that’s where our lobbying efforts are going to go now.”
To that end, Ms. Wolfe said her group is launching a lawn sign campaign to save the dam.
“We don’t want this to fall off the front burner here right now. We think we’ve got everybody’s attention, and so we want to make sure that we keep it.”