Organizers of a planned occupation of the lower dam at Colliery Dam Park say they intend to protect the dams come hell or high water, preferably the latter.
Dave Cutts, local coordinator of Veterans of Clayoquot, said the group has already organized a groundswell of supporters and has no intention of leaving the park until the fall, when the accompanying rains will make it difficult, if not impossible, to remove the 100-year-old dams until the following summer.
Last week, city council voted 5-4 to have the dams removed and the lakes drained to mitigate risk downstream should the dams fail during an earthquake or extreme precipitation event.
The province estimates in the event of an extreme failure, 150 people could lose their lives, making the Colliery dams some of the riskiest in the province.
The city is in the process of issuing tenders for contractors to remove the dams, and is targeting mid-July to begin removal.
On Sunday, Cutts organized a preliminary rally at the lower dam to gauge public support for the occupation.
“We’re not short on volunteers, that’s for sure,” said Cutts. “The challenge at this point is organizing the committees, developing the core group, and then establishing different levels of call-out. It’s extremely structured.”
Cutts added once the occupation begins – expected sometime in June – there will be no intention of protesters leaving the park until September.
“Civil disobedience is still legal, you can be in a park with protest signs and it’s still legal,” said Cutts. “It’s in our Constitution. We were in Cathedral Grove for two years … the city can get a court injunction but judges don’t like to be dragged into these local affairs.”
Over the past 20 years, Veterans of Clayoquot has been successful in defending the War of the Woods at Clayoquot and Cathedral Grove, worked to relocate the Nanaimo Parkway away from the lower dam at Colliery Dam Park, and saved Mount Benson from being clear cut.
Members of the RCMP attended Sunday’s meeting simply for information purposes. RCMP spokesman Const. Gary O’Brien said while police do communicate with protest organizers, as they did with Occupy Nanaimo, they leave it to the city to take the lead on peaceful civic issues.
Randy Churchill, manager of bylaws for the city, said communication has already started between the city and Cutts.
“The goal is to be respectful of the message of the protesters while being respectful of the needs of the community,” said Churchill.
Illegal camping in a city park carries a fine of $150.
The shift to civil disobedience marks the coming end of the Colliery Dam Preservation Society, which was established by concerned citizens to provide information and options to the city that could save the dams and resulting recreation facilities.
Jeff Solomon, spokesman for the society, said the group may take a different approach, but at this point he’s not sure what that will look like.
“The role of this group may change, or it may just disappear and let someone else take over, who knows?” said Solomon, who has been working since it was announced last October the dams would be removed, to provide information to the community. “It will really be up to individuals to choose what they want to do.”
Cutts said there will be organized meetings at Colliery Dam Park every Sunday leading up to the indefinite occupation.
“It’s all going to be very gentle, non-confrontational,” he said. “The goal is to delay, delay, delay.”