Work was progressing on Lake Lisgar Revitalization Project's Phase 5 last Thursday morning, the third day of pumping mud.
The north end of the Tillsonburg lake has been filling in with sediment over the years, effectively shrinking the lake and adversely affecting the ecosystem.
After receiving a $22,000 grant from the Great Lakes Guardian Community Fund, they made plans to pump mud out in the shallowest areas.
Recently LLRP received an additional $4,000 grant from Oxford Community Foundation, which includes a matching $2,000 grant from Community Foundations of Canada (CFC) as one of its Canada 150 grants. They also received assistance from Janet Wilkinson, from the Wilkinson Alabastine Trust Fund, a fund established through Oxford Community Foundation, which is invested by OCF.
"And every year we invest the income from those funds back into the community," said Louise Waldrop, executive director of the Oxford Community Foundation, who visited the mud pumping site Thursday.
"Mr. Alabastine was the principal at Tillson Avenue Public School," noted Joan Weston, a member of the Lake Lisgar Revitalization Project committee. "Half this town knows Mr. Alabastine. The fund is called Wilkinson Alabastine Fund, and she (Janet Wilkinson) made sure we got all of the available money - more than they typically give for one project."
"And then we matched it, we put in the request for a matching grant. There are 191 Community Foundations in Canada," said Wardrop, "and they (CFC) are the parent organization that we're a part of... and they had the Canada 150 matching grant."
Work was in progress Thursday with Frank Kempf, from the Lake Lisgar Revitalization Project, and Gary Deconinck, from Great Lakes Excavating (Delhi), teaming up on a barge and its companion boat.
"Frank designed the system," said Weston. "He went online... and designed a system so it doesn't impact the environment."
Dredging, she said, would just "scoop up everything and throw it."
Using their purpose-built pump, she said they were not impacting the lake environment.
"It takes longer, he said," Waldrop noted.
"But it's less invasive," nodded Weston.
One motor stirs up the sediment, said Weston, and the other sucks the sediment through a hose to the nearby bank, above the shoreline.
"Mud pumping," said Weston. "Every once in a while a big clump of sticks will clog it, so they have to stop and clean it all out."
At one point, they were sucking up more than five feet of leaves, silt and sludge.
"He (Kempf) said they've gained six and seven feet of depth now. Whereas it was one foot of depth beore, now it's seven feet."
Weston pointed to 'the little island that never was' at the north end of Lake Lisgar, created by silt coming into the lake over the years.
"The Ministry won't let us remove that little island because there's a tree on it, so it's 'established' itself. We can't take it away."
The plan was to move around the 'island' toward the mouth of the creek, but Weston anticipated running out of funds before they reached their goal.
"It's just so deep. We're going to get around as far as we can, and then in the fall, we've got the money from (Oxford Community Foundation and matching grant) to keep going... unless we use it up by March 14."
"There are certain time frames they can use it, because of the turtles and fish," noted Wardrop.
"The MNE said 'you have until March 14th and then you have to stop,'" Weston nodded. "Until September, because of the turtles and fish spawning."
Given the tight deadline, Kempf and Deconink braved cold temperatures - and Wednesday last week gale force winds.
"It's urgent," said Weston. "We have to use the Guardian Fund money or we lose it."
"We were close to going for a swim a few times," Kempf smiled, taking a brief break. "That's why we're wearing our survival suits."
Pumping would continue each day until the 14th, he said, and they will plant native grasses on the shore this spring/summer after it dries.
"This general area here - we call it the North East corner of the lake."
Phase 5, which was announced last spring and promoted in the summer of 2016, was delayed from its anticipated start last October. They needed a late soil test, and had to wait for it. There was another delay, requesting another test. That work was completed over a period of weeks, from late October to mid-November.
"And then we got iced in," said Weston. "I think we had two days of pumping, and then we got the ice. We got an extension from the Great Lakes Guardian Fund until March 31st, but the Ministry said, you've got until March 14th."
However, after an unusually warm winter the ice came out early.
"They got the boat out... and then it was iced in till last Monday," Weston laughed. "It got cold again. So now they dock the boat up here (at the north end). But there have been other years where at this point of the year, it would still be solid ice."