Last summer, The Grower toured the Ontario’s Holland Marsh to see the construction underway for canal improvement. Frank Jonkman, drainage superintendant for Bradford-Gwillimbury Township provides an update.
|Major reconstruction of the canal system in the Holland Marsh started in the summer of 2010 and is expected to last as many as seven years.
Q. Can you put into context the scale and complexity of the Holland Marsh canal reconstruction? Dollars invested, time required, how many miles of canal to be reconstructed?
A. The Holland Marsh Drainage System Canal Improvement Project (the Project) is the largest drainage project in Ontario being done under the Drainage Act. The estimated cost of the project is $26.4 million and the Engineering Report estimated a seven year construction period.
There are 28 kms of existing canal that will either be fully relocated or widened and deepened. There are also five municipal structures (bridges) and four provincial structures (Hwy 400) that are required to be replaced as part of the project. The projected municipal cost for this is $7.5 million and the provincial cost is estimated at $50+ million.
The drainage system prior to construction was not able to withstand a 50 year storm event and was arguably marginal for a 25 year event.
Generally, any of the canals that are located along roads are being relocated away from the road to address the issue of life safety as there have been a number of deaths attributable to the proximity of the road to the canals. Where roads do not exist, the canals are being widened and deepened.
Q. What are the expected benefits? More water? Adherence to ministry environmental guidelines?
A. Based on the fact that the dykes around the Holland Marsh would not withstand a 50 year event, the obvious benefit is flood protection to some of the most valuable/productive farm land in Ontario. The Project is also addressing many of the irrigation crossings that presently go through the dyke system and will be replacing the wide variety of crossing using various materials with a standard crossing which will be easier to manage during times of high water.
Q. What are some of the unique features?
A. The new canal system will have many environmental features incorporated into it including littoral shelves, varying gravel substrates, root masses and tree trunk placement all to improve fish habitat. We have also incorporated gravel nesting beds for turtles.
Areas in which the canals have been moved also are being restored with assistance from various partners and include tree plantings and a variety of grasses. Some depression areas are also being implemented to create seasonal pools which also enhance the habitat. Once the project is complete there will be a measurable improvement to the habitat.
Q. When is the project expected to be completed?
A. As mentioned previously, the project has an estimated schedule of seven years. Currently we are tracking ahead of schedule and may be able to have the work done in less than five years, this of course is dependent on a number of factors.
Q. Any glitches so far?
A. The project was subject to a Canadian Environmental Assessment Act study. Since we have begun construction, we have been fortunate with the cooperation we have been receiving from the various agencies and stakeholders with respect to approvals, permitting and issues related to the Endangered Species Act.
The project has received $10.2 million from the Municipal Infrastructure Investment Initiative. OMAFRA will be providing a grant of 33 per cent to all properties with the farm class tax rate.The project has considered all of the properties which benefit by the drainage that is provided by the Project. There is a total of 64,000 acres and approximately 9,000 landowners that have been assessed into this project under the Drainage Act.
The total cost will be divided with 75 per cent going to the benefitting landowners within the Holland Marsh and the remaining 25 per cent being assessedto the watershed. Based on construction estimates, agricultural lands within the Marsh will be assessed $106/acre, lands outside will be assessed approximately $26/acre. These are net assessments, after various grants.