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Niagara Falls
Thursday, September 28, 2023
Twelve Mile Creek ‘unsafe for recreational use,’ hydro says
A shot of one of Ontario Power Generation’s danger signs as seen from a pedestrian bridge spanning the river nearby. (EVAN LOREE)
Liam Neumann and his mother Barbara Worthy with their dogs Brody and Louie. (Supplied)
These cement slabs in Twelve Mile Creek form a barrier to keep recreational users of the creek out of the most dangerous areas. (EVAN LOREE)
This trail-facing warning sign is obscured by foliage and fenceing. (EVAN LOREE)

NOTL resident Barbara Worthy says she wants to lead the charge to make Twelve Mile Creek safer for the public. 

After her son Liam Neumann died rafting in the creek on June 25, Worthy says the creek needs to be “monitored much more closely.”

“That’s my mission now,” she said.

After surveying the area with friend and kayaker John Kinney, Worthy said there is a “significant lack of warning signs” along the waterway.

“There’s no signs. There’s nothing here to tell you about the dam and the water and the changing pressure,” Worthy told The Lake Report.

She noted one sign posted on a creek trail near Old Glendale Road in St. Catharines gives no warning of the dangerous waters downstream.

The sign was erected by the City of St. Catharines.

She and Kinney also pointed out there was a patch of shoreline nearby that could easily be mistaken for a launching point for kayakers.

“I was astonished to see absolutely zero advisory signage indicating swift water hazards downstream,” said Kinney, who operates Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours.

There was nothing to indicate the waters were unsafe for recreational users, he said.

“I was quite surprised.”

In addition to more warning signs, Worthy said she wants to see barriers to prevent public access to the river and an educational program to inform people of the dangers in the water.

She plans to create a water safety foundation in honour of her son and has set up a GoFundMe for people to donate to it.

Water flow into the creek is controlled by Ontario Power Generation, a government-owned energy company that operates 66 hydroelectric power stations and 241 dams in Ontario.

These include the Sir Adam Beck I plant in Niagara Falls and the Decew I station in St. Catharines.

Ontario Power Generation spokesperson Neal Kelly said safety is always top of mind for the utility and extended sympathies to Neumann’s family and friends.

Twelve Mile Creek, however, is “just not suitable for recreational use,” he said.

“Water levels and flows near hydro stations and dams can change rapidly and with little to no warning,” according to the company’s website

The power stations are also remotely operated, meaning there could be no one at the dam or station to provide help in an emergency.

The company has two videos on its website’s public safety page warning people not to fish, boat or swim near its dams.

Kelly said dams and power stations along the region’s creeks and rivers can cause “extremely strong and dangerous currents.”

He wasn’t the only one to say recreational users should stay off the creek.

“We do not paddle up there,” said Dave Smith, secretary of Niagara-based kayaking club Peninsula Paddlers.

“That’s a really dangerous stretch of water,” he added.

Smith would not recommend anyone use that stretch of Twelve Mile Creek for recreation.

Kelly said the utility company does its best to amplify its safety message across the community.

It does safety presentations at schools and installs danger signs and barriers along the creek where it gets hazardous, he said.

He added that some areas are rough enough that the company has to fence off the adjacent trails, but that it allows access to certain areas so people can hike along the creek.

“Communities don’t necessarily want 12-foot fences around those waterways,” Kelly said.

When a Lake Report photographer stopped by the creek near where Neumann died, a line of cement barriers spanned the creek, just downriver of a pedestrian bridge.

There was also a danger sign facing downstream a little way upstream from the bridge.

“If you are proceeding downstream, you don’t see that sign,” Kinney said.

A buoy floating nearby notified people they were entering hazardous waters.

There was a smaller danger sign on the trail near Hillcrest Avenue, but it was mostly obscured by foliage and fencing.

As well, a sign on the same path appeared to have an emergency number on it, but it was too vandalized to make out the number.

Worthy said she doesn’t know if legal action is an option at this point and that she is still figuring out who is in charge of the river.

“First of all, we have to work collaboratively,” she said.

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