The city will move forward with an appeal to try to buy itself more time to get its dam decision right.
In a split vote Tuesday, Nanaimo city council chose to pursue an appeal and a stay of the Dam Safety Section’s order to remediate the Colliery dams within six months.
Coun. Bill Bestwick made the two-part motion that the city make the appeal and also meet with the province to present the city’s arguments.
Bestwick said Nanaimo is being asked to spend millions over and above any likely damages from a flood event. He said the most recent reports show that the dams are seismically strong and suggested that a dam breach won’t lead to death and destruction.
“The downstream damages [would be] in the low millions and we’re being asked to spend quadruple – millions over and above what the loss of property and life will be,” Bestwick said. “So there’s kind of been a cost-benefit analysis.”
The city’s solicitor Reece Harding told council publicly Tuesday that he doesn’t foresee an appeal being successful.
“We’ve actually heard the city solicitor’s opinion that we had a very slim chance, in his view,” said Coun. Diane Brennan. “I have no interest whatsoever in spending tax dollars in flights of fancy.”
She motioned not to appeal or ask for a stay, and her motion was defeated in a split vote, though it was supported by Mayor Bill McKay.
“I trust what our high-priced legal counsel is saying,” McKay said. He’s the expert. He’s done numerous environmental appeals and he’s telling us that ‘you’ve got little chance of success.'”
Bestwick, however, said he thinks the appeal will have a greater likelihood of success if a Nanaimo delegation gets the opportunity to state its case to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
There is a tight timeline. The meeting with the ministry needs to happen next week as the appeal must be launched by June 1.
The municipality may ask for the dams to be held to a lower safety standard.
“What I hope is that we can get it down to a reasonable, acceptable level of risk…” Bestwick said. “I would like to see the least expensive, least intrusive [solution], a lowered classification from the Dam Safety Section, and that we accept the risk.”