Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Tag: dam construction (page 1 of 2)

The saga of Site C

An April 2016 view of the Site C prep work, including a new access bridge, shoreline logging, etc, by the official Site C photographers.

An April 2016 view of the Site C prep work, including a new access bridge, shoreline logging, etc, by the official Site C photographers.

Ask Yan Chen what it is like to try and finalize a thesis on a topic that is changing as quickly as the debate over dams in Canada. Although it reached it’s one year construction anniversary this summer, and the landscape is barely recognizable anymore (see the construction photo gallery), voices of dissent over Site C are growing louder, not softer. Amnesty International have called for a halt to construction, for violations of First Nation rights, consistent with the news from New Brunswick. A long form piece on The Current this week examined First Nations issues around Site C quite deeply, in part inspired by Gord Downie’s pressure on Justin Trudeau Saturday night. So when Yan came into my office this week with a completed draft of her thesis about youth perceptions of Mactaquac and Site C, as revealed by Instagram use, it was clear there would likely be edits right up until the moment of submission pending the status of the projects.

Mactaquac commentary abounds

In the months leading up to the Mactaquac decision, the editorial pages of the Telegraph Journal is filling up with opinion pieces. Early in May, Keith Helmuth of the Woodstock Sustainable Energy Research group (who was an expert at our citizen jury) spoke out for dam removal, looking towards more efficient, greener energy options for the same investment and a boon for agricultural production. LarryJewett of Lakeway Houseboat Rental on the headpond (who rented us the houseboats we used for floating focus groups in 2013), and Friends of Mactaquac Lake, responded to support the rebuilding of the dam and generating station, for the local amenity it has become. Since then, Peter Cronin of the Atlantic Salmon Federation has responded to both in a two part commentary (1 and 2), supporting dam removal to foster a healthy river and restore fish stocks, among other things. While TJ has a firewall, as a subscriber the commentaries are just as interesting. A recent blog post on the NiCHE website by once-NB now-Maine environmental historian, Mark McLaughlin, uses our Before the Mactaquac Dam storymap to illustrate the need for academics to avoid focusing on stories of environmental decline: dams dramatically change landscapes and ecosystems, but are the exception among infrastructure in creating new amenity. I’m heading next week to the ISSRM meeting in Michigan, where I am co-convening a five-session stream on energy landscapes and transitions, which will examine just such trade-offs.

Miller’s Valley and more

A particularly beautiful book cover eased the hesitation at buying hardcover.

A particularly beautiful dust jacket eased my hesitation at buying hardcover.

A Saturday Globe review for Miller’s Valley caught my eye, and when I discovered I was 46th in line to borrow the book at the Central Library, I headed to the marvellous independent bookstore Westminster Books during a weekend trip to Fredericton to buy my own copy. The book tracks the coming of age of a girl in Pennsylvania as she watches government pressure inexorably lead to the inundation of her family’s farm for the ‘public good’. The flooding plays the same role in this book as in many others I’ve discussed here and in recent papersshorthand for obliteration, loss, injustice, and forgetting – but what distinguishes it is in demonstrating the capacity to adapt over time, nonetheless. A few excerpts from the last page resonate particularly:

I don’t really miss the Miller’s Valley I used to know, the one in which I grew up, my very own drowned town. It’s been gone a long time now… They’re talking about having a big celebration for the fiftieth anniversary… and that’ll clinch it. If something’s been around fifty years, it’s been around forever. Most people think it’s always been there. They run fishing boats and go ice skating and sit in folding chairs and look out over the place where we all lived and it’s just water to them, as far as the eye can see. I guess it’s just water to me, too. … When I talked to Cissy about Andover, when I was a kid, I thought her life, her past, her childhood, all of it was buried down there under the water. I didn’t understand that it was above the surface, in her, the way mine is in me. … Lots of people leave here, that’s for sure, but people stay, too. And some are like me. They circle back. (p. 256-7)

Hand-drawn map by Joe George of a transect from the Woolastook campground in NB over old homesteads flooded by the Mactaquac Dam.

Hand-drawn map by Joe George of a transect from the Woolastook campground in NB over old homesteads flooded by the Mactaquac Dam.

In this same weekend I visited Joe George at COJO Exploration, who had spent the day scuba diving in his quest for the old townsite of Kingsclear, now under the Mactaquac headpond. His hand-drawn map from the dive shows the foundations, wells and other infrastructure he swam over, trying to avoid stirring up sediment in the low-visibility (2 ft) conditions. Looking at old maps, he reckons the well (“still water in it!”, he joked) belonged to the Long family. Joe is hoping to set up a recreational scuba track – as he showed me, basically a high-viz yellow cable – to allow visitors to explore the drowned town. He also hopes, however, to find some relics of life there, to share with either prior residents or local museums.

Dams are in the news, either in terms of removal (see a discussion here about opening the gates of the Glen Canyon Dam), or protests about construction. For instance, a public letter signed by Canadian scholars protests about Site C’s approval as a violation of process and treaty rights. An early-stage proposal for a dam on the Eldred River near Powell River BC is being protested by rock climbers (on the basis of a long-standing base camp) and foresters (the transmission infrastructure associated with independent power installations affects forestry and thus jobs), possibly the first time that those two bodies were on the same side of any issue.

Mactaquac bathymetry

Bathymetry of the Mactaquac headpond, NB, by the Ocean Mapping Group at UNB, revealing the former townsite of Culliton, near Nackawic, including its road and rail bridges.

Bathymetry of the Mactaquac headpond, NB, by the Ocean Mapping Group at UNB, revealing the former townsite of Culliton, near Nackawic, including its road and rail bridges.

The Ocean Mapping Group at UNB has released the Mactaquac bathymetry (depth of water) in a wonderful Google Map interface. A Nackawic resident sent it to me this morning with a story of how moving it was to see the former features revealed. I have been waiting a long time to see this, too, and it impresses with crisp 1.66 metre resolution detail. Little sedimentation is evident up against the dam wall, and islands, towns and former river channels remain intact. It will be interesting to navigate it in parallel with our storymap of pre-dam airphotos, to decode some of the more curious shapes. The ‘illumination’ applied to provide a 3D effect has the visual effect of making it look inverted, (i.e. causeway lower than water channels). But this is a marvellous dataset which will enable important visualization work in the consideration of options for the Mactaquac dam.

More dam fiction

The edition of The Winter Vault I borrowed from Halifax's new Central Public Library.

The edition of The Winter Vault I borrowed from Halifax’s new Central Public Library.

I was moved to borrow Anne Michael’s second novel, The Winter Vault, from the Halifax Public Library after Graeme Wynne’s mention of the book (along with The Sentimentalists) in his introduction to Daniel Macfarlane’s Negotiating a River about the building of the  St. Lawrence Seaway. The book is poetry, really, so do not read it with the expectation of being able to recognize the pattern of kitchen banter from your own life. However, it fits remarkably well in my informal collection of books in which water inundation stands as shorthand for loss, grief and the difficulty of an authentic recovery (whether you cling to the past or invent anew without an eye to that past).

A young engineer is apprenticed to the art of dam-building by his father, and his work on the St. Lawrence Seaway after the loss of that father is a tribute to the older man. He meets his wife-to-be in the dry once-riverbed as she collects plant species, and starts to feel the violation of his work, ecologically but also for residents of the seven Lost Villages. He atones by takes a job relocating the Abu Simbel temples in the erstwhile Nubia, to save them from the rising waters of the Nile during construction of the High Aswan Dam. This, too, feels like a violation, as most certainly do the sterile villages constructed for the displaced Nubians. For the Nubian culture, the Nile was the lifeline, and the inundation severed it and scattered this nation in all directions. Of one of the soon-to-be lost Nubian villages, the heroine, Jane, observes:

Here was a human love of place so freely expressed, alive with meaning; houses so perfectly adapted to their context in materials and design that they could never be moved. It was an integrity of art, domestic life, landscape … it was Ashkeit they should be salvaging; though it could never exist anywhere else, and if moved, would crumble, like a dream. …no landscape alone could arouse such feeling.  (p. 131-133).

In the final act of the book, these two erasures are juxtaposed with the destruction and reconstruction of Warsaw in the Second World War, as remembered by Polish-Canadian survivors. Of the reconstruction of the ‘Old Town’, in cartoon form, the guerilla artist Lucjan describes:

Walking for the first time into the replica of the Old Town, said Lucjan, the rebuilt market square – it was humiliating. Your delirium made you ashamed – you knew it was a trick, a brainwashing, and yet you wanted it so badly. … It was a brutality, a mockery – at first completely sickening, as if time could be turned back, as even the truth of our misery could be taken from us. And yet the more you walked, the more your feelings changed … you began to remember more and more. Childhood memories, memories of youth and love … (p. 309)

The characters are not quite people, but ideas. Despite the difficulty this brought for my complete immersion and empathy, the ideas themselves were engrossing, especially for those interested in the impacts of dam construction and removal.

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