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Residents rally to save dams at Colliery Dam Park

From left, Terri Parker, Adrian Parker, Courtney Wylie and Jeff Solomon are some of the Harewood residents who want further discussion with the city on its plans to remove two dams at Colliery Dam Park. The group has organized a public meeting Tuesday (Nov. 20) at 7 p.m. at John Barsby Secondary School to try to get city officials to consider alternatives. - Toby Gorman photo
From left, Terri Parker, Adrian Parker, Courtney Wylie and Jeff Solomon are some of the Harewood residents who want further discussion with the city on its plans to remove two dams at Colliery Dam Park. The group has organized a public meeting Tuesday (Nov. 20) at 7 p.m. at John Barsby Secondary School to try to get city officials to consider alternatives.
— image credit: Toby Gorman photo

Citizens are rallying to try to persuade Nanaimo city council to reverse its decision to remove two dams in Colliery Dam Park that have provided residents with recreational opportunities for decades.

In late October, the city revealed that studies performed by the provincial Dam Safety Branch over the past two years suggested that, in the event of an earthquake or extreme rainfall, the dams could fail, causing water from two lakes to rush into parts of Harewood.

Both dams are 100 years old and, according to city officials, at the end of their useful life.

They were installed by the Western Fuel Company for the purpose of storing water for washing coal at Nanaimo’s waterfront in 1910.

But removing the dams will result in the popular lakes being drained, taking away swimming and fishing opportunities enjoyed by thousands of people annually.

Jeff Solomon, organizer of a public meeting taking place Nov. 20 in the gymnasium at John Barsby Secondary School at 7 p.m., said the safety factor is understood, but isn’t convinced all options were explored to keep Colliery Dam Park in its present state.

“This park is part of the fabric of the city, it adds unbelievable value to our city,” said Solomon.

“This park, in its present form, is a huge reason why people have chosen to live here. If you take it away, there will be a gaping wound where the park used to be.”

Solomon said he doesn’t buy the city’s estimates that it will cost $20 million to $30 million to restore the dams to current code, adding that the projected $7-million cost to remove the dams is also a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“OK, the city wants to mitigate liability, fine,” he said. “But we don’t know what will happen during a big earthquake. Most of the buildings in this city aren’t up to current codes. For all we know half of Nanaimo will fall into the ocean. I just don’t see taking away something so many people love as the right decision.”

The city heard similar discontent by residents at two open houses it hosted on Nov. 5 and Nov. 8.

Nanaimo resident Geraldine Collins said she is angry at the city’s approach, how it came to the decision and how it presented the information to the public.

She cites a lack of community consultation, no environmental studies, and no consideration for historical significance.

“Why is the city council so quick to destroy a jewel in Nanaimo’s crown?” she asked in an open letter to council. “The obvious answer is to abrogate their legal liabilities. It has nothing to do with the needs of the community, the wildlife or any of the other intrinsic values. It has nothing to do with a well thought out solution. Yes, something must be done to assuage the B.C. Dam Safety regulations, but why next summer?”

City council discussed the issue of removing the dams in camera, revealing its decision at an open council meeting in late October.

Local officials were told by the province to establish a plan to mitigate the risk by the end of this month.

Solomon said he has no idea how many people will show up to the public meeting Nov. 20, but all are welcome.

“If only a few people show up then I guess we’ll have our answer, that most people aren’t as concerned about it as I am,” he said. “But I feel we owe it to the park to at least try.”

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