Save Nanaimo campaigns dominated the news this year

Nanaimo residents demonstrated how much they love their parks and green spaces this year.

Nature-loving groups formed all over the city to protect green areas they feel strongly about, from Colliery Dam Park in the south to what is known to the community as Pioneer Forest in the north and east into Nanaimo's harbour.

The biggest hullabaloo occurred at the end of October when the city announced a plan to spend $7 million to remove two 100-year-old dams at Colliery Dam Park because of the potential threat to human life.

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.

But the dams are popular with residents, who use the lakes for swimming and fishing, and an outpouring of support to keep them soon followed – in November, about 500 people attended a meeting at John Barsby Community School in the hopes of convincing city council to consider other options.

"This park, in its present form, is a huge reason why people have chosen to live here," said event organizer Jeff Solomon during the meeting. "If you take it away, there will be a gaping wound where the park used to be."

Last week, after hearing again from this group, city council directed city staff engineers to explore options for dam rehabilitation, repair or replacement. The dams are not scheduled to be torn down until the summer when water flow is at its lowest, so council agreed to look at alternatives in the meantime.

In the north end of the city, Friends of Pioneer Forest was formed in July in response to a request by Nanaimo school district to re-designate this area, located at May Bennett Pioneer Park, from parks and open space to neighbourhood, a designation that could pave the way for development of the 3.2-hectare piece of land.

The group found evidence that the park was wrongly relieved of its park designation in 1997 when the city sold the parcel of land to the school board for $800,000 and it challenged the city and school board in an effort to provide long-term protection for what it considered a park.

In early December, the city and school board announced a land swap that gives the city ownership of Pioneer Forest.

Friends of Pioneer Forest is now advocating for the city to dedicate the land as a park under a bylaw that requires a public referendum prior to removal.

In the early spring, Team Linley Valley West, a group that formed last year to protect western portions of Linley Valley, began collecting signatures for a petition to give to the mayor after Nanaimo council flip-flopped on its own commitment to seek funding.

In late February, council passed a motion to explore funding mechanisms to possibly purchase the parcels of land, which have an assessed value of more than $6 million, but two weeks later, council reconsidered that motion and it failed the second time around.

The group continues to work on the issue and the News Bulletin expects to hear from members in the new year.

Also this year, the Nanaimo Area Land Trust continued its campaign to create a long-term protection strategy for the Nanaimo River watershed and Nanaimo Mountain Bike Club members voted in favour of pursuing land-use agreements with private landowners in an effort to preserve riding terrain and improve trail access for local trails, as private forest companies own the majority of the land that mountain bike trails are built on around Nanaimo.

And it was not just the threat of losing green spaces that raised the ire of residents this year.

After the Nanaimo Port Authority announced a proposed 30-year lease of the Nanaimo Boat Basin to Pacific Northwest Marina Group, some marina users concerned about privatization and a lack of public access to moorage organized a blockade of the harbour in August in protest.

And a mid-Island environmental group continued the push to have the Nanaimo Estuary included in a National Marine Conservation Area. The federal and provincial governments hope to create the Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area. The proposed boundary for the conservation area stretches from the southern tip of Gabriola Island to the Saanich Inlet and Cordova Bay, but the Mid Island Sustainability and Stewardship Initiative hopes to get the boundary extended around the estuary.

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