An 11th-hour decision to fix the lower Colliery dam and abandon a legal appeal of a provincial order was made under “quite a bit of duress,” according to Coun. Bill Yoachim.
Nanaimo’s nine councillors voted unanimously Monday to remediate the lower dam with an auxiliary spillway, estimated to cost between $2.8 million and $4.6 million. It will also drop its appeal of a provincial order to the Environmental Appeal Board, write concerns to the province and investigate the dams issue.
The about-face comes just shy of a July 24 deadline by the B.C. comptroller of water rights to submit plans for the lower dam, and on the heels of a letter sent July 16 by the province that makes it clear council’s decision on the dams, made a week ago, would not comply with a provincial order. It also lays out potential consequences, including the removal of water licenses necessary to keep the dams intact and fines of up to $1 million a day, and shows individual representatives of the city could be held personally liable if the corporation commits an offense under the Water Act.
Councillors Yoachim, Gord Fuller and Jim Kipp said the potential consequences were factors in their decision and are now looking toward an investigation.
Fuller said a week or two ago he didn’t think the province would do anything. It’s now become a reality the city could have been used as an example and see its water licenses pulled, said Fuller, who points to conversations with people who work closely with the provincial government as reasons for what changed from last week, when council decided not to move forward with lower dam remediation and instead focus on studies, creation of a committee and work on the middle dam.
“I didn’t like the idea of the city being fined,” Fuller said. “But to have our water license taken away that could have been a huge issue.”
Yoachim, who proposed the motion that won unanimous consent, pointed to an approaching deadline and the province’s lack of movement on its order as reasons behind the decision. The city received a strong letter from the province, he said, adding while this decision isn’t perfect, it’s a resolution.
“Am I pleased we have to do this? Absolutely not,” Yoachim said. “But nevertheless, we are able to preserve the park through the spillway option.”
The motion was acceptable to Kipp because it includes sending a letter to the province outlining council’s concerns and an investigation.
“We have the right as a community to self determination and it seems like we are not willing to do that right now,” he said. “I have to vote to continue to move the business of the city forward.”
The motion also involves a tendering process, a plan for the middle dam and a select committee that will play a consultative role during the installation of a spillway.