Dams in Virgil are in need of repairs, but who’s going to foot the bill? That’s a “million-dollar question,” says a Niagara-on-the-Lake councillor.
Well, the question is worth closer to half a million.
Darren Mackenzie, the town’s director of public works, told the irrigation committee it would cost about $425,000 to repair the dams.
The upper and lower Virgil dams were originally built in 1966 to support the town’s irrigation system.
Coun. Erwin Wiens, who sits on the irrigation committee, said the cost of the system is charged exclusively to its users, namely farmers.
Following that logic, Wiens said the cost of repairing irrigation infrastructure falls on the farming community.
But the dams in Virgil are owned by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, Wiens said.
And George Lepp, another member of the committee, said it’s the conservation authority’s “responsibility to not only build it but maintain it.”
Lepp argued the conservation authority “abdicated” its responsibility to maintain the dams once they learned of the cost to repair them.
Mackenzie said the conservation authority does not have the funds to restore the dams though, and is looking to split the cost with the town.
In fact, he said the conservation authority plans to remove the dams entirely if it can’t reach an agreement with the town on how to pay for them.
“Oh, they’re willing to go there, are they?” asked irrigation committee chair Kevin Buis.
He suggested it would cause a bit of an “uproar” in Virgil if the dams were removed.
No one on the committee expressed interest in such an outcome.
Mackenzie pointed out that by working with the conservation authority, the town could secure funding sources that are not usually available to it.
“If the (conservation authority) can help us get money, it could be a worthwhile partnership,” Buis said.
The committee, still unclear about the details of such a partnership, decided it wanted to chat with the conservation authority before signing any formal agreements.
Wiens, who was not at the meeting, told The Lake Report the town and conservation authority have been in talks on the project for some time and this “wasn’t coming out of the blue.”
The dams have created two manmade ponds that Wiens said have historically been used to hold water for irrigators.
While growers no longer need the ponds to store water, Wiens said water needs to continue flowing through the ponds and down Four Mile Creek.
Wiens said the town and conservation authority are working together “to beautify that area.”