Two dams in Colliery Dam Park will remain intact for at least another month after Nanaimo city council decided to consult on the issue for another 30 days.
City council was expected to pick a company to do the dam removal work at Monday’s meeting, but a presentation from Snuneymuxw First Nation Chief Douglas White III prompted Coun. Bill McKay to make a motion to conduct further discussions with the Snuneymuxw and exhaust all of the possible options and considerations before awarding a contract for removal of the dams.
White told council the May 13 decision to tear down the dams, then rebuild them at some point with a hydroelectric component, went in a different direction than what had been talked about up until then and could potentially be the riskiest path to take in terms of the health of the river.
“Fisheries always matter to the Snuneymuxw,” he said. “We do believe that there’s time right now to be taken, that we have time in front of us to be able to repair and get ourselves back onto a path of partnership and mutuality and recognition and respect. I believe that we have time to look at this issue because of the critical nature of it and the importance of the outcomes of the decision.”
White also told council he believed rebuilding the dams is extremely unlikely given the province has told them it is very rare that dams are approved to be built or rebuilt for recreational purposes.
The motion passed 7-1, with only Coun. Ted Greves opposing. Coun. Bill Bestwick was absent.
While another 55 people had signed up to speak on dam removal issue after White, council decided to postpone the delegations, given that the topic they intended to speak on would not be discussed that evening after all.
Had the contract been awarded – city staff was recommending that Milner Group Ventures Inc. do the work for a little more than $2.9 million – removal would have started the week of July 18.
Mayor John Ruttan said the 30-day window negatively impacts the construction timeframe, but that hopefully there will still be enough time to deconstruct one or both of the dams before the rains come in the fall.
“This whole thing to me is all around public safety,” he said. “They’re the two biggest-risk dams in British Columbia. They need to come down. So now the issue is what do you want to see afterward. Now we need to meet with the Snuneymuxw First Nation and find out what they envision as a possible route forward.”
Ruttan said according to city estimates, deconstructing the dams and re-naturalizing the river comes with a price tag of about $7 million and deconstructing the dams and then rebuilding them would cost around $12 million, but he did not know if the province would veto the proposal to rebuild the dams as White suggested.
White said Snuneymuxw has not come to any decision on the best way to move forward and that what is needed is time to look at the options.
Jeff Solomon, Colliery Dam Preservation Society spokesman, said simply ripping the dams out could be detrimental to the health of the river.
“Putting a good plan in place that works for everybody is really the goal,” he said, adding that his group is willing to pay for a study to show how the water level can be lowered in both dams to mitigate the risk in the short-term.
The city estimates that de-watering would cost $400,000 per dam per month.