City staff calls for more time to discuss Colliery dams fate

NANAIMO – Council looks at options to mitigate risk over winter

Nanaimo city staff called for more time to research lower-standard dam designs and consult with the Snuneymuxw First Nation during an open meeting Wednesday.

City staff members recommended council nix tenders for the removal the middle and lower Colliery dams and revive a short-term risk mitigation plan while they continue discussions with Snuneymuxw.

City officials report they’ve not yet completed a review of the Colliery dams inundation study nor wrapped up a 30-day dialogue with Snuneymuxw First Nation on mitigation options.

The consultation was anticipated to end Thursday (Aug. 8).

The issues surrounding the dams are complex and it would take much longer than the August expiry  date to “exhaust all possible options and considerations” required as part of talks with the SFN, according to Ted Swabey, general manager of community safety and development.

Council debated the recommendation last night after the press deadline for today’s paper. But Mayor John Ruttan told the News Bulletin Wednesday morning that he expected city officials would opt to support  their staff’s opinion.

A 30-day consultation with the SFN has precluded any reasonable chance of removing the dams this season anyway, he said.

“I would have liked in many ways to continue on and get the work done, at least reduce the risk and if the dams were taken out … eliminate [the] risk,” Ruttan said. “Now it looks like it’s not available to us because of timing.”

Debate over the fate of the century-old Colliery dams has been ongoing since last year, when the B.C. Dam Safety Branch notified the city that its lower and middle dams pose a public safety hazard.

Nanaimo city officials decided in May to move ahead on demolishing the structures and build new dams sometime next year.

The process was put on hold, however, after Snuneymuxw Chief Douglas White III called for better engagement on all potential mitigation measures.

The city had planned to rebuild the dams to the highest possible design standards when the B.C. Dam Safety Board only required the dams not fail catastrophically during a major quake, White said, adding that he believes alternative options, like  lower standard designs, could yield significant cost changes.

A report from the facilitator involved in the 30-day consultation was anticipated to be released prior to the Wednesday meeting. Updates on the decision will appear on the News Bulletin’s website at www.nanaimobulletin.com.