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City of Cambridge puts $15.2M Riverside Dam project on hold indefinitely

$15.2-million project on hold to allow city to tackle other priorities next year
USED 2021-10-27 good morning cambridge
The Speed River flows to a mirror-like calm above the Riverside Dam in Preston.

Escalating costs, rising debt and priority projects like expanding the Preston Memorial Auditorium has led Cambridge council to shelve the plan to rebuild Riverside Dam next year.

Council was given the option to move ahead with the $15.2 million project in 2022, but it would have cost an additional $375,000 for an archaeological assessment and more design work, which is only 60 per cent complete.

Instead, council went with a recommendation from city manager David Calder to take a “passive management approach” at a cost of $30,000 a year for inspections and monitoring.

Monitoring would entail a detailed investigation every other year to complement annual visual inspections of the dam’s structural performance, said the city’s director of engineering Kevin De Leebeeck.

Before voting along with the rest of council in favour of the passive approach, Coun. Donna Reid said if the city needs to pull back on any one of its capital expenditures this year, the dam is something that can safely wait.

Instead she wants to give priority to other projects that will be a better benefit to the community.

“We’re just saying we’re going to pause for a while and go ahead with other projects that are more urgent,” she added. 

Coun. Mike Mann agreed, adding he understands the rationale behind the recommendation and reiterating his desire to see the dam rebuilt at some point because of what it represents to Preston’s heritage.

Coun. Nicholas Ermetta said he doesn't want to see the project on hold for long.

The latest decision in the saga of the 130-year-old dam comes more than a decade after a structural evaluation concluded that it was in need of repair.

Initially budgeted in 2019 at $5.4 million, the cost rose to $15.2 million following an environmental assessment that determined a new dam would need four vertical lift gates to manage spring and fall flows, a fish ramp and several other measures not initially considered in the budget.

Those include additional sediment sampling, wetland assessment and design related to diverting flows through Sulphur Creek.

Annual operating costs for the completed dam are estimated to be $35,000.

Since the project would have been funded entirely by debt if approved, the annual cost of covering the debt principal and interest would have amounted to $1.2 million, and represents a tax rate increase of 1.17 per cent applied to the 2023 and 2024 tax years.

Removing the Riverside Dam project reduces next year’s capital budget to $59.1 million.

In making the decision to delay the project, councillors didn't mention concerns expressed by the Indigenous community as weighing on their minds.

Last month, Bethany Kuntz-Wakefield, wildlife and stewardship manager for the Elected Council of the Six Nations of the Grand River, told CambridgeToday the Indigenous perspective is often missing in municipal consultation over projects on disputed lands within the Haldimand Tract.

“Our position is that the dam doesn’t need to be there. There is no need for it. This was communicated to the city years ago,” she said. “There is no reason for the dam, except for heritage reasons. The river has been there for thousands of years. But this is the settler cultural heritage, not the Indigenous cultural heritage.”

Doug Coxson

About the Author: Doug Coxson

Doug has been a reporter and editor for 25 years, working mainly in Waterloo region and Guelph
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