THUNDER BAY – It will take at least three weeks for Boulevard Lake to refill to normal summertime levels, the city reports, after gates at the lake’s dam were lowered in what is believed an act of mischief
The city was alerted early Monday morning that 11 of the Boulevard Lake Dam’s 12 gates were “lowered without authority,” apparently late Sunday night.
They have since been raised.
The circumstances around the lowering of the gates is still under investigation, but director of engineering and operations Kayla Dixon said it appeared the most likely explanation was that the gates were manually opened on site by an unauthorized person or group of people.
An automated system to operate the gates, one of the last elements in a recent $8.5 million restoration of the dam, had not yet been installed, she said.
It means the city did not receive immediate indications of the problem.
“Once the dam operations are operated through [the automated system], we would be [alerted] as far as lake levels, flow rates, or gate levels, but at this time that’s not in place,” Dixon said.
The city also does not have surveillance cameras in the area, she said.
While she cautioned the city is still unsure of the details of what occurred, she said she was able to rule out an error on the part of city staff, and there were no indications of a mechanical failure.
“At this time we have determined that no city staff operated the gates. There was no fault that could be found to say that the gates dropped somehow automatically.”
Instead, she said it appeared someone manually operated individual activators on each gate.
“We believe there would be some person that came out and operated the gate,” she said.
That would take some knowledge or “a lot of playing around,” according to Dixon.
“I do know it’s difficult to access the actuators on site, so someone would have been trying very hard in order to make any changes to the gate levels,” she said.
“That’s done on individual gates on site through a remote control device. Otherwise we’re still investigating how the gates were operated outside of that procedure.”
She encouraged anyone with information about the incident to contact city dispatch at 625-2195 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Current River Ward Coun. Andrew Foulds called the incident “extraordinarily disturbing.”
“All indications suggest” it was a case of vandalism, he said.
“It appears that someone who was unauthorized opened the dam and allowed the lake to drain,” he said. “If that is the case, I hope someone has the courage to call Crime Stoppers or call the authorities to let them know who did this.”
One of the dam’s gates will remain lowered in order for the city to meet obligations to maintain water flow of 0.4 cubic metres per second through the dam, to support fish habitat, Dixon said.
“We anticipate the lake levels will be back to normal within several weeks,” she said.
Of course, any significant rainfall events we have would help that timeline.”
The city estimates lake levels fell by around 1.2 to 1.3 metres during the incident, to about 210.3 metres above sea level, Dixon reported.
That would have taken about eight hours, and brought levels roughly to where they normally sit in the winter, she said.
The city has reported the situation to authorities including police and relevant provincial and federal ministries.
The city also had a team assessing the perimeter of the lake and downstream for environmental impacts, she said, with workers ready to attempt fish rescues if necessary.
Foulds said the city will need to take steps to ensure the event can never happen again.
“I’m not an engineer… but I am surprised someone was able to do it,” he said. “I understand it would have been difficult to do.”
He also lamented the impact of the incident on summer recreation in his ward, right as schools are being dismissed for summer.
A new floating water park that opened over the weekend on Boulevard Lake will likely be impacted, Foulds said. City staff said the attraction requires at least 10 feet of water to operate.