Delayed dam work hurts canoe club

ERIC BENDER -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:33 AM ET

Officials of the London Canoe Club have been wondering whether the city gives a dam about their sport.

Springbank Dam, which enhances recreation on the Thames River by controlling water levels, needs a retrofit -- a $6.8-million project that has been approved by the city to start Sept. 18 after the last regatta of the season.

But delays and malfunctions set back the club's competitive program this year and ate into time for recreational use.

The dam was damaged in a flood six years ago and the resulting lack of water upriver has been the bane of the club. It expects more disruption next year during construction, which could be further delayed by bad weather.

Ron Standish, city director of waste water treatment, said construction is contingent on the weather. The contractor has to be out of the river April 1 to allow the fish to spawn. If the work is not finished, it will have to resume after the spawn. Even so, the new gates won't be used to fill the river until June 15.

Normal start date is May. 1.

The work involves replacing the stop logs with metal gates that will be operated by hydraulic lifts fitted into the existing concrete abutments.

"Our membership suffered and remuneration for our expenses to keep going went down," club president Addie Gushue said.

Debris damage and clogging prevented the dam from closing -- and thus filling the river to the level for canoeing, kayaking and rowing -- until July 1. It was disrupted again for two weeks in August when debris clogged the dam gates again.

The lack of sufficient water cut the club's competitive canoe and kayak sprint numbers to 30 from last year's 50, sprint program coach Joanna Radaczynski said.

As a result, the sprint team members who remained didn't improve and achieve as well as they might have in club and provincial competitions.

Just one member -- 16-year-old Nik Sofalvi, who specializes in K1 (one-person kayak) at 6,000 metres -- made it to the national championships in Regina. He was injured in practice in Regina and came in 26th when it was expected he would place in the top 10.

Gushue wonders whether his injury might have resulted from lack of consistent training.

Lack of guaranteed water has Radaczynski uneasy. "I don't feel the city is dedicated enough to canoe as it is in spending for soccer, hockey and baseball facilities," she said.

The $6.8 million for dam reconstruction, she noted, stands against millions spent on arenas, playing fields and other recreation centres. The other club that uses the Thames water behind the dam is the London Rowing Club.

When completed, however, the new dam will be more efficient, capable of filling the river for use in the spring in three days rather than the usual week and a half.

Provincial and federal funding of $2.8 million would have expired March 1, 2008, if the work hadn't gone ahead.

Gushue thinks the city should take even more ownership of the river. She said private docks get uprooted and become debris, and large garbage items such as chesterfields are dumped in the river and eventually reach the dam.

She cited a private dock that washed away this summer, causing part of the problem.

"People should be made more accountable and standards (for docks) put in place," she said.

Although the sprint team is only six years old, it had established a regular annual regatta.

But it had to be cancelled this year because of low water.

Radaczynski said a reputable club has to have an annual regatta and clubs need to know dates to co-ordinate the regatta season schedule. So far a regatta for next year look doubtful.

Lack of water this year forced the competitive paddlers to use Sharon Creek near Delaware. That move required the transportation of boats and the coach's motorboat.

The club's dragon boats were taken to Fanshawe Lake. Instead of being on the water several times a day, the competitive group was going out only twice a week. "It put them way behind the others," Radaczynski said.

Ideally paddlers like to be on the water as soon as the ice is out and not quit until freeze-up, she said.

London teacher Danielle Holdsworth, 26, who won a batch of medals at the nationals in Regina paddling for the Mississauga club, said, "With the water down, it's very difficult to practise in London. I was out on Sharon Creek all spring when the water didn't come up (on the Thames)."

Holdsworth, just four years into the sport, said she went to out-of-town clubs for elite coaching and higher performance teammates after spending one year at the London club.

Radaczynski wants the city to recognize the canoe facility is an important athletic activity that can expand. "We are the London Canoe Club and when we go out of town we represent London," she said.

Her goal is to have 100 sprint paddlers next year and establish a boys' and girls' high school war canoe regatta, but that means there has to be water during the school term.

"I have so many plans and so many hopes, but it's not going to happen unless we get co-operation from the city," she said.

Competitive paddlers in many clubs spend their entire summer days at their clubs, practising two or three times a day.

"It gets kids off the street and addresses what they are saying about kids being obese," Gushue said.

The club has 900 members in its programs. Its summer day camp had 122 children this year and it accommodates community groups such as Boys' and Girls' Club, the Christian Young Adults and Community Living.


Videos

Photos