Esox dam back on radar

Duane Hicks

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry again is looking at what to do with the Esox Lake Dam, located about 50 km northeast of Fort Frances, with potential outcomes being to fix it, modify it, replace it, or let it deteriorate.
The dam previously underwent an Environmental Assessment in 2003, followed up with a recommendation from the MNR in 2005 to build a new one.
A lack of funding to do the project meant the new dam never was built, however. The current dam, first built in 1952, continues to be in poor shape and requires extensive maintenance and repairs.
A new study is being conducted to update components of the earlier Environmental Assessment (EA), which has since expired.
It will feature new information, including any new input from stakeholders regarding concerns and interests, an updated structural assessment, an updated hydrological assessment, and conceptual options.
Providing information to stakeholders, and getting input from them, was the purpose of an information session last Tuesday at the Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre, noted MNRF resource management supervisor Ralph Horn.
“We’re not formally into another EA process just yet so we’re out in front of it,” he told the Times.
“We are confirming contacts, the stakeholders on the lake system . . . and getting new information if there’s new people out there.
“We have comment forms and some preliminary information,” Horn added. “So we’re getting a sense of what they think.”
He said the study is in “very early stages,” and feedback from the public will be carried forward if the MNRF commences a formal EA.
The ministry is looking at a handful of options as to what to do with the dam but “have not landed at a position,” Horn stressed.
“We’re opening this up and all of these options are on the table,” he remarked. “And we’re interested in what the public has to say.
“There’s interests on both sides of the dam.
“There’s cottagers and recreational users above the dam on the Manitou system, as well as businesses, so they would be the immediate interests we’d like to hear from,” Horn noted.
There’s people on Rainy Lake itself who also have an interest in the dam, he added, although the Esox Lake Dam does not have a major impact on Rainy Lake.
“It sort of came to our attention during the flood of 2014 that the dam itself just constitutes around three percent of the watershed contributing to Rainy Lake, so it actually doesn’t contribute a lot of water to the system,” Horn explained.
The Shaw Room at the library saw a steady stream of stakeholders attend to see what the MNRF had to say on the issue.
“I heard about this from some people I know up on Manitou that had contacted me, customers of mine,” said Lanny Cyr, a Fort Frances native and Rainy Lake cabin owner who now lives in Bemidji, Mn. (he sells propane refrigerators and has local customers).
“I wanted to find out how much this is going to affect Rainy Lake, if at all,” Cyr noted. “And they [his customers] heard the Manitou lakes would drop anywhere from six-seven feet.
“So I’m here on a fact-finding and truth mission.”
Looking at the information provided at the session, Cyr said the MNRF has a variety of options to weigh.
“You’re never going to keep everyone happy but hopefully they’ll try to,” he remarked.
Dam options
Options the MNRF are considering include:
1). Make no repairs to the dam and leave it to deteriorate
Over time, the dam would lose its ability to control water levels and would pose a possible public safety risk.
The water regime would remain status quo until water-regulating components of the dam cease to function.
Over time, water levels at Gussie and Esox lakes would drop an average of 3.05 metres (10 feet) while waters levels on the Manitou Stretch, Lower Manitou, and Upper Manitou would drop an average of 1.35 metres (4.4 feet).
•2). The existing structure would be rehabilitated
The dam would be repaired to today’s safety guidelines and extend the life of the structure.
There would be partial reconstruction, patching, and repairing of deteriorating features of the structure.
The water regime would remain “as is,” and the MNRF would continue to operate the dam as it does today.
•3a). The current dam would be modified with weirs and stop logs
The dam would be modified to meet current safety standards, reduce operational requirements, and minimize change in upstream water levels.
The outer two stop log bays would be replaced with fixed weirs while the central bay would get a new sill and six stop logs.
The water level would be lowered by an average of 0.55 metres (1.8 feet) throughout the lake system but it would be the intent to maintain overall navigability and provide protection against flood events.
•3b). The current dam would be modified with a spillway
The dam would be modified to meet current safety standards, reduce operational requirements, and minimize change in upstream water levels.
All stop log bays would be replaced with fixed weirs, and a stop log-controlled spillway would be added to the west side of the dam.
A new steel walkway would replace the existing concrete one and the top of the dam no longer would be accessible by vehicles.
The water level would be lowered by an average of 0.55 metres (1.8 feet) throughout the lake system but it would be the intent to maintain overall navigability and provide protection against flood events.
•4a). A new dam with steel walkway would be built downstream from the existing one, which would be decommissioned once the new dam is in service
The new structure would consist of a 21-metre-long overflow weir and a single stop log bay. It would feature a steel walkway but would be not traversable by vehicle.
The water level would be lowered by an average of 0.55 metres (1.8 feet) throughout the lake system but it would be the intent to maintain overall navigability and provide protection against flood events.
•4b). New dam with concrete piers would be built downstream from the existing one, which would be decommissioned
The new structure would consist of three concrete bays, each with a fixed weir, and an additional log-controlled bay on the west bank.
It would feature a concrete causeway and be traversable by vehicle.
•5). Complete removal of the dam
This would mean the river gradually would return to its natural condition over several years.
Water levels at Gussie and Esox lakes would drop an average of 3.05 metres (10 ft.) while water levels on the Manitou Stretch, Lower Manitou, and Upper Manitou would drop an average of 1.35 metres (4.4 feet).
Navigability would be lost across Esox Narrows, Birch Narrows, and Four Mile Narrows.
The feedback period will close Oct. 6.
After that time, the MNRF will look at the comments it receives, then make a decision whether or not to move onto a formal EA.
The public had the opportunity to provide feedback at the public session but are still welcome do so via phone (1-844-291-9223) or e-mail at info@manitoudamproject.com
You also can mail a standard letter mail to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, 922 Scott St., Fort Frances, Ont., P9A 1J4.

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