Opinion

Colliery dam saga can’t keep dragging on

About a year ago, I applied for a reporter position at the Nanaimo News Bulletin and I remember doing research. Google yielded phrases that included the words ‘Colliery’ and ‘dams.’

The topic of demolishing the 100-year-old dams was broached in 2012, when council was considering advice from the provincial dam safety branch that stated the dams were at risk of failure should an earthquake or heavy rainfall occur – the Harewood area was particularly at risk.

The cascading mass of water, brought on by failure, had the potential to harm residents, students at John Barsby Secondary School and attendees at Little Ferns Early Learning Centre as well.

There was opposition in the form of the Colliery Dam Preservation Society, which disputed reports received by the city, and said public consultation was not conducted. The city refused to consider other options, it said.

The school district drafted a letter to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations asking it to require that the City of Nanaimo take action to address the risks to life and property.

The city was set to decide on a company for dam removal in July 2013 but following a presentation by then Snuneymuxw First Nation Chief Doug White III, delayed it for 30 days in order for further consultation to take place.

The city has since changed is stance on the dams, now looking at rehabilitation as opposed to its original plan.

Recently, the preservation society withdrew from a city technical committee, claiming it is not examining the least invasive and least expensive remediation measures.

In July, city staff recommended an option that would see the size of the excess water passage from the dam increased. The option had an estimated price tag of $8.1 million and the preservation society said it is against the option, referring to it as “destructive.”

A $7.2-million option involving overtopping was also a recommendation and the preservation society is suggesting another overtopping method, but one that will cost about $3 million – city staff said the society’s option needs to be fleshed out and estimates that another $200,000 would be needed to evaluate it.

Since 2012, it is estimated that $2.35 million has been spent on reports and research related to the dams.

Natural disasters, such as earthquakes and rain storms or heavy rainfall can occur at any time and should the dams fail due to those, what would ensue would likely be tragic. It’s time to come to a firm decision on how to deal with the Colliery dams.

Exploring multiple options is prudent and the topic of dam safety is not to be taken lightly but numerous reports have been done and a lot of money has been spent. There should be sufficient information out there to make some semblance of an informed decision.

Whatever option ends up being utilized, mitigating the risk of dams won’t be cheap, overtopping or not. Furthermore, the process has been going on for a long time with no end seemingly in sight.

Here’s hoping the city finally makes a dam decision, or rather, a decision about the dams, soon.

reporter@nanaimobulletin.com

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