UTRCA set to close Glengowen Dam project

By Chet Greason

Ian Wilcox, general manager of the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA), has said that the Glengowen Dam project will never happen and needs to close.

The topic came up during Wilcox’s presentation to St. Marys Council during their budget deliberation meeting on the evening of Tuesday, Jan. 30. Wilcox annually presents to Council, reviewing his organization’s various projects and laying out how much money they expect from the town.

This year’s ask is substantially larger than past years: a total of $198,499 over last year’s $94,454. A big part of this is $100,000 that is needed for repairs to the flood wall that protects the downtown from an overflowing Thames River. Councillor Lynn Hainer noted that this extra $100,000 is not unexpected and has been properly budgeted for.

However, Mayor Al Strathdee still called the authority’s plans an “aggressive growth strategy” from a business point of view. The Authority’s strategy includes plans for increased tree planting, improved water quality efforts, expanded targets for conservation area attendance, and updated flood models, as well as a watershed-wide total annual budget of $19,908,972. Strathdee challenged Wilcox, saying the strategy was leveraged against continued funding from the federal and provincial governments; funding that may not be there should the governments change hands during the upcoming election cycle.

(Provincial and federal transfer payments are slated to account for 28 per cent of the UTRCA’s new draft budget. Municipal levies make up 27.9 per cent, while 13.8 per cent will come from contracts and 30.3 per cent will be generated through user fees.)

“If a new government is not willing to fund conservation authorities, will we be left holding the bag?” asked Strathdee.

“We’ll back off if conditions change,” answered Wilcox.

It was councillor Tony Winter who brought up the Glengowen project. Glengowen was originally supposed to be another dam like the one at Wildwood, situated along the Thames River between Mitchell and St. Marys. The Authority bought up parcels of land, roughly 1,200 acres, around the Motherwell area during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s in anticipation of the project, but it never got off the ground. The Authority has since been acting as landlords to tenants living on the properties, controversially evicting one tenant and tearing down a 149-year-old home in 2012.

Winter suggested to Wilcox that the authority could generate some of the revenue they need by selling the Glengowen properties. In answer, Wilcox conceded that the dam project “will never go ahead.”

“It’s still active, but it needs to close,” Wilcox said of the project. He added he expects an announcement on the matter within the next six months.

More trees, less phosphorus

Amongst UTRCA’s strategies moving forward is a perceived need for tree coverage to combat erosion, as well as increased efforts to improve water quality.

Wilcox says Perth County, St. Marys, and Stratford lost 78 hectares of forest coverage between 2000 and 2010, leaving the county below what the Authority considers to be healthy coverage, but “far better than Middlesex and Oxford.”

The UTRCA wants to restore 1,500 hectares of natural vegetation cover, windbreaks, and buffers by 2037. This will include establishing 1,000 hectares of new vegetation (the equivalent of 25 one hundred-acre farms,) and restoring 500 hectares of existing cover. This means doubling the current planting and restoration program.

Wilcox also says the watershed’s various tributaries score exclusively Cs and Ds in terms of water quality. They aim to bring that average up to Cs and Bs by doubling the scope of their rural stewardship programming, as well as adopting a new urban program.

He cited recent massive algae blooms in Lake Erie that are partially caused by phosphorus from farm fertilizer runoff. The phosphorus leaks into the great lake via the rivers that feed it (the Thames itself empties into Lake St. Clair.)

Wilcox says the federal government has marked the Thames as a priority in the Erie algae matter, and noted it recently asked to use the Authority’s board room in three weeks’ time for what he expects to be a funding announcement.

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