Mayors demand independent review of dam operations

Mayors from Renfrew County and flooded municipalities west of it are calling for an independent review of how Ontario Power Generation (OPG) operates its dams along the Ottawa River.

OPG promising to meet with Renfrew County residents

Floodwaters from the Ottawa River nearly cover a road sign in Waterfront Park in Pembroke, Ont., Saturday, May 11, 2019. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Mayors from Renfrew County and flooded municipalities west of it are calling for an independent review of how Ontario Power Generation (OPG) operates its dams along the Ottawa River.

The mayors met in Pembroke, Ont., on Thursday with Natural Resources and Forestry Minister John Yakabuski, OPG staff and the river's regulator.

They were seeking answers on behalf of residents of their communities, many of whom have been flooded twice in two years.

These meetings are what my residents are asking for.- Arnprior Mayor Walter Stack

A social media page calling for an independent inquiry into the causes of the repeated flooding now has more than 6,000 members.

After the meeting, Arnprior, Ont., Mayor Walter Stack told CBC there was unanimous consent among the mayors for a review of how the dams and reservoirs are operated.  

"We need to get OPG's explanation for the last two floods, and we want that independently reviewed by a third party to verify their explanation," Stack said. 

OPG to hold public meetings: Mayors

According to Stack, Yakabuski acknowledged the demand for a review in his opening comments, but did not commit to one.  

Yakabuski told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Friday that he's open to such a review, but did not say whether or not the province will actually pursue the issue. He said it will be discussed in the closed-door meetings. 

"The best way to get to the bottom of this is for the stakeholders, the municipal representatives and the operators to have a chance to sit down," Yakabuski said. 

"I think that we will have some some good and full and wholesome answers at the end of the day."

Stack described the Thursday meeting as cordial, but said the mayors relayed the anger and frustration many of their residents are feeling. Pembroke Mayor Michael LeMay echoed Stack's account of the meeting to CBC.

Four OPG staff members fielded most of the questions and comments, Stack said.

He said OPG has committed to participating in four public meetings in Renfrew County.

"Residents want to participate, and it is absolutely necessary to get the facts out to them and let them ask questions," he said. "These meetings are what my residents are asking for."

'A learning organization'

Reached late Thursday afternoon, OPG spokesperson Neal Kelly confirmed staff will attend the public meetings, and said an educational video about how water levels are controlled along the river will be shown.

"We're a learning organization, and we try to apply things from one [year] to the next," Kelly said.

The meetings are tentatively set for June 23 and 24, with the locations still to be determined, Kelly confirmed.

A similar meeting to Thursday's in Pembroke is scheduled for Friday in Ottawa with Mayor Jim Watson and West Carleton- March Coun. Eli El-Chantiry expected to attend. 


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