City staff highlight risk from dam breach

NANAIMO – Emotion is butting heads with corporate responsibility over Colliery Dam Park.

With emotion butting heads with corporate responsibility over Colliery Dam Park, city staff want to highlight the threat to public safety posed by the 100-year-old dams.

Al Kenning, city manager, Tom Hickey, general manager community services, and Phillip Cooper, communications manager, met with the News Bulletin’s editorial board Monday answer questions on a number of issues buzzing around the community, including potential development in the park and a court injunction against protestors.

The Dam Safety Section of the Water Management Branch, Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations informed the city the lower and middle dams are an extreme risk and in their current condition a public safety hazard.

Told to correct the problem, council decided on draining the reservoirs and removing the dams in July when water levels are at their lowest. The project includes replacing the dams next year.

Council’s decision caused a wave of protest in the community from public meetings to a promise of civil disobedience.

Kenning said the city is not taking on this project simply because it wants to stir the pot.

“Nobody wants to have to deal with these dams. We knew how people would react,” he said. “The studies say there are 130 people that are likely to die if those dams go. By our calculations, there is something like a 15-per cent chance in the next 50 years that it’s going to happen.

“That is not a miniscule risk. That is a significant risk and it gets higher every year. It’s enough of a risk that people can’t just ignore it.”

The city is seeking an injunction ahead of the deconstruction of the dams to prevent any civil disobedience at the project site.

“I’m sure there will people who want to protest and we’re not saying you can’t do that,” said Kenning. “Those people aren’t the ones being targeted by the injunction. The people targeted are the ones who intend to physically stop the work.”

Cooper said some of those opposed to the project are not taking into consideration the public safety threat.

“People are dismissing that because we don’t have a lot of public safety threat issues come up. When they do, it’s a different type of debate,” he said. “A lot of the conversations are about what people want as individuals, but we are talking about a collective responsibility. That’s what government has to operate under.”

Other rumours surround plans to put a road through the park and develop a subdivision.

“A lot of people are grabbing on to ideas that don’t have any foundation in our legal or legislative capabilities,” Cooper said. “To develop the park there is a public process to go through. We would need permission from the electorate. The city simply doesn’t have the ability to say ‘we’re going to develop that’.

“There is an assumption out there that the city has more powers than it really does.”

Kenning said people need to put themselves in the role of a council member.

“They’ve been told by the Dam Safety Branch, their professional engineers they’ve hired and their staff that this is a public safety risk,” he said. “And then to not do anything about it and have something happen would not be a pretty story.”