Esox dam open houses outline options

Two public meetings on the fate of the Esox Lake dam were held last week, providing a look at the options the Ministry of Natural Resources—with input from public—will be weighing before taking action.
The first of these meetings was held last Wednesday at the MNR office here while a second one was held Friday at Barker Bay Lodge on the Lower Manitou.
At the meetings, the MNR outlined five alternatives as to what can be done with the dam, which is located north of Devils Cascade and affects water levels along the entire Manitou watershed stretching 60 miles northeast of it (including Esox, the Manitou Stretch, Lower Manitou, and Upper Manitou).
These options include:
•do nothing (the dam eventually will break down on its own);
•rehabilitate the dam;
•reconstruct the dam with a control structure and a weir;
•reconstruct the dam with an overflow weir; or
•decommission it.
MNR district planner Rachel Hill noted yesterday that unlike a meeting held in January, 2003, where 50 people showed up for heated discussions regarding the fate of the Footprint Lake and Esox Lake dams, only 11 people came by the first open house while about 20 attended the second one.
While Hill said she would have liked to have seen a better turnout, with people representing more points of view, there was “some good discussions” nonetheless.
The open house held here saw people come and go throughout the afternoon and early evening while the one last Friday was a morning session, at which MNR staff made a brief presentation about the possible futures for the dam.
Hill noted, as expected, property owners were concerned about any changes to water levels while other users wanted to know how navigational access was going to be affected—answers which MNR staff and engineers of Trow Consulting, with the aid of charts and maps, were on hand to give.
One person who dropped by the information session here last Wednesday was Bruce Hamilton, who sits on the Fort Frances Sportsmen’s Club board of directors, and is chair of Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters’ Zone #8 board.
Hamilton said he attended to see how the options would potentially affect recreational use of the waters affected by the dam, adding that, personally, he felt either building a new dam with an overflow weir or a control structure would be the best choices.
Hamilton admitted he once felt decommissioning the dam was a viable option (reverting the area waters to a “more natural state,” with no future costs to taxpayers for maintenance or operation).
But after going to the open house, he felt that option could mean access by anglers to certain bodies of water might be cut off.
Hill stressed these meetings were strictly informational, and meant for the public to find out more about the possible ways the MNR should deal with the problem of the deteriorating dam—a decision the ministry has not made yet by any means.
She said property owners in the area, as well as any of the public who want to be on the mailing list (and signed the guest book at either of last week’s meetings), will receive information packages on the alternatives in the next couple of weeks.
The recipients will be able to fill out comment forms and voice concerns about any of the options, as well as fill out a form to choose which one they think best suits the watershed.
They will have a 60-day period from when they receive their information packages to send their responses back to the MNR.
Taking the public’s input into consideration, the ministry then will decide what do about the dam. Depending on the amount of feedback, this could take some time, noted Hill.
Once a decision is made, those who provided input will be notified of it, and given 30 days to again provide input to the MNR before the decision is finalized.
Hill said the dam’s future should be decided by next spring.
In 2001, the MNR conducted safety review assessments on both this dam and the one at Footprint Lake. The assessments concluded the dams were in fair to poor condition, and in a state of deterioration.
From the assessments, the MNR identified that some action must be taken to satisfy current dam safety criteria to plan for the future.
At the January, 2003 open house, the public was asked which of four options should be taken to address the problem of the deteriorating dams at Esox and Footprint.
Options for both dams at that time included reconstruction, replacement, removal, and decommissioning.
After taking public input into account, the MNR announced in March, 2003 that it would rebuild the dam on Footprint Lake. The $1.34-million project was completed last fall.
But at the January, 2003 meeting, many questions arose from the public about the watershed controlled by the Esox Lake dam and how, if it were decided that the dam be removed and not replaced, it might affect tourist camp owners.
Last summer, the MNR conducted a more thorough environmental assessment of the watershed so that some of the questions raised at the first open house could be answered at the ones last week.