On the agenda for Tuesday’s April council meeting is the notice of motion for a $1.05 million loan bylaw for the demolition and replacement of the Pine Lake dam and related work.
Residents are justified in asking why this proposal is 25% higher than its 2014 predecessor, withdrawn by the previous council after a significant number of residents signed a register demanding it be put to a referendum. I’ll do my best to explain it as I understand it.
There also appears to be widespread misunderstanding of loan bylaws and the municipal financing process. I’ll try to cast some light on this in the context of District 2 councillor Austin Rikley-Krindle’s notice of motion ‘to finance the rehabilitation of the Pike Lake dam and spillway and the environmental development of wetlands.’
Despite repeated flood threats to the dam, dike and adjacent Cameron over the years, nothing was done to reinforce the system before April 2014, when rising water levels and ice pressure unseated the 62-year-old dam. Before the administration could agree on the best course of action, the dam slumped into the sinkhole created by the escaping water and broke away from the curtain walls directing the flow into the Cameron culvert. What’s left provides minimal floodwater retention but our consulting engineers warn that a major torrent (like those of 2006 and 2009) could displace the entire structure, possibly blocking the Cameron culvert and washing away a section of Cameron.
The saga is well summarized in the September 2019 Stantec report. Stantec collated the data from three previous technical studies — EXP (May 2014), Amec (August 2014) and GHD (September 2015) and a variety of options proposed in the February 2016 report by the Pine Lake Working Group of citizens. At council’s request, Stantec also looked at an alternative proposed by hydraulic engineer Miroslav Chum. Stantec then measured all options against the conditions laid down in an August 2017 environment ministry (MELCC) memorandum highlighting its concerns.
Stantec tells us this: the volume and velocity of runoff entering Pine Lake has increased 20% as the result of climate change. The 100-year maximum flow — the volume and velocity of runoff from a catastrophic downpour — originally was estimated at 15 cubic metres per second. Based on year-over-year estimates and high-water spikes, Stantec now sets the 100-year maximum at 18 cubic metres per second.
The studies agreed the maximum capacity of the Viviry Creek culvert under Cameron is 10.8 cubic metres per second. Council was told the only solution would be to double the capacity of the culvert at an estimated cost of between $400,000 and $500,000.
The other factor in Stantec’s cost-benefit equation is lake volume. The original dam was designed to maintain the lake level at 34.2 metres above sea level. Since then, the lake has silted up, significantly reducing its volume (and its ability to retain stormwater). Stantec estimates the 100-year lake level should be raised to 34.98 metres, requiring that a replacement structure be raised to 35.12 metres. To accomplish this, a replacement structure would need to be 20 metres long and the existing dike along Cameron reinforced with steel pile walls or similar and waterproofed with a high-density plastic membrane. The existing concrete spillway and curtain walls between the dam and the culvert also need to be replaced. Estimated cost: $1,050,000 — $656,700 including taxes, plus a 25% contingency buffer.
Quebec’s municipal affairs ministry (MAMH) requires that municipalities adopt loan bylaws prior to going to tender on SEAO, the government bid tendering website. Think of SEAO as a brokerage where municipalities must post any contract over $101,000 and where contractors must obtain tender documents, usually in exchange for a deposit. These documents are based on the reports from third-party consultants, such as the engineering firms hired to find a solution to the Pine Lake stalemate.
SEAO was created in response to the collusion scandals which led to Superior Court judge France Charbonneau’s probe, but many believe it has led to an increase in the average cost of municipal contracts. Like it or not, SEAO is the only game in town if we want to get our roads paved and our infrastructure upgraded.What will it look like?
What will it look like?
People ask me what the new structure look like. Instead of the dam, we will be seeing the Viviry flowing over a 60-foot-long concrete lip, called a weir. There will be no floodgates because the weir is designed to maintain a fixed water level in the lake and constant flow its full length. The Viviry runs all year, so there will always be water flowing over the lip. (If you want to see a weir in action, head down to the Sandy Beach footbridge and see how the beavers maintain a constant water level in their ponds with their weirs.)
Why restore the lake?
There’s money for a lake. A couple of months before Stantec presented its report to the town, St. Lazare came to council with a proposition. Their remediation project for a landslide zone along the Quinchien River would wipe out fish habitat; Quebec’s environment ministry (MELCC) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada would permit it so long as they could find somewhere similar nearby to create a similar habitat. Would Hudson be interested in restoring Pine Lake so that it would qualify? Their council approved an amount of up to $400,000. Stantec’s report was modified to include the full-restoration option.
Council must decide at the April 6 council meeting whether to proceed with a loan bylaw for the entire amount, minus whatever we finance with the town’s accumulated surplus and St. Lazare’s fish-habitat contribution. We still don’t know how much we will receive from St. Lazare even though their council adopted a resolution providing up to $400,000 for restoration of fish habitat. Given that uncertainty, council agreed to make the loan bylaw independent of whatever we receive from St. Lazare. Whatever we receive from them will go to reduce the total amount of the loan bylaw.
Late last month, we were told that MELCC informed the town there would be no funding for sediment control because we were receiving monies from St. Lazare. Other sources of funding are being actively explored, but MAMH still requires a loan bylaw for the full cost even if we don’t spend it.
Another aside on municipal financing: because a loan bylaw doesn’t reflect the actual cost of a project, it isn’t added to the town’s long-term debt until it is completed. At that point, invoices are paid out of the town’s line of credit. Then, and only then, is the actual cost rolled into the town’s long-term debt and reflected in our tax bills. Estimated cost per taxpayer per year is in the $5-$6 range.
One thing has been made clear to us in the Stantec report— doing nothing isn’t an option. MELCC has ordered us to remove the original dam. The ministry has also ruled out non-conforming options, such as Miroslav Chum’s boulder spillway. If we opt to remove the dam and do nothing else, we don’t get St. Lazare’s money, but we’ll end up having to spend that much or more to double the volume of the Cameron culvert, reinforce and waterproof the dike and replace the curtain walls. And no lake.
I’ve been writing about this mess since 2014. I’ve read and re-read every one of the reports and proposals. Maybe I’m missing something, but I can’t see a cheaper, faster path forward.