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Village awaits word on fate of its fishing hole

HARRINGTON — When the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA) received the results of a pair of consultants’ reports about the safety and stability of small dams located on its property, deficiencies were identified in numerous locations. But the dam in Harrington — originally constructed in 1846; upgraded significantly when the UTRCA took ownership in 1952; and repaired after a seven-inch rain in 2000 — jumped to the top of the list.

And now a former resident of the village is calling on the public to help save the dam.

Jennifer Hewitt of Elora, who calls the pond created by the dam “a tiny gem of a fishing hole” in a letter to area newspapers, is calling on those concerned about the structure’s fate to let Township of Zorra know their concerns.

According to the UTRCA’s water control structures supervisor, Rick Goldt, a dam safety review was first completed between 2003-07 on all UTRCA dams — large and small. In keeping with recommendations from that review, a second consultants’ study was undertaken in 2008 of geotechnical factors, including the stability of embankments and surrounding soil.

Goldt notes “there are probably a lot of privately-owned dams that are in worse shape” in the region. But, among the small UTRCA-owned structures studied in 2008, “Harrington was much more critical (than most others), in the consultant’s opinion, in that it didn’t meet the standards that are in place today.”

Tim Van de Kemp, chair of the committee working towards the restoration of the Harrington Grist Mill — the building just downstream from the dam, for which the pond was created back in 1848 — said, “our first choice, of course, would be to keep the pond. Our ultimate dream is to bring the mill back to working order and use it as a showpiece of how important water power was in our past.”

“They go hand in hand,” he said of the mill and pond.

He admitted, however, that the decision regarding the dam is “a Catch-22.” The structure is deteriorating, and considerable resources will be necessary to replace it. But, on the other hand, the campaign to restore the mill has brought the community together to a far greater degree than in the past.

“And, aesthetically, (the pond) is a wonderful thing to have in the village. People return from near and far to fish there. . . It gives the village an identity.”

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