Election 2014: Views differ on next steps for dams

NANAIMO – Mayor and council candidates outline ideas for century-old structures.

Pause the process or work on a resolution to move forward: two Nanaimo mayoral candidates have differing views on the next steps needed on the Colliery dam affair.

The solution and cost to address risk posed by Nanaimo’s Colliery dams has fallen to a new council, with no verdict made to remediate the century-old structures. For two years, the City of Nanaimo has grappled with the question of what to do with the dams, spending approximately $2.5 million on short-term mitigation measures and research.

While the risk of the structures collapsing during a quake is no longer as high as previously thought, engineers and the B.C. Dam Safety branch continue to highlight the problem of a flood during a major storm event and have advised the city to do something to address it. Until now, council has made no firm decision on remediation and city staff and the Colliery Dam Park Preservation Society, a citizens’ advocate group, remain at loggerheads over potential solutions. Now the city is reviewing a new alternative for remediation involving a swale to Harewood Creek, with a report expected in the new year.

City council candidates told the News Bulletin they’d like the chance to get any last bit of information and review the issue, while two mayoral candidates took different stances on next steps for the dams.

Coun. Bill McKay, who’s seeking the mayor’s seat, said he has no idea what his council is going to look like if elected, but proposed learning sessions on the dams to help get some people up to speed on the issue. He would like to find a resolution for the structures within 90 days “so that we can get on with it.” Rival Jim Routledge,  however, wants to hit pause on the Colliery dams business for four months,  up from an earlier pitch for a 90-day break in which he said he’d like to start the search for a new city manager and allow time to regroup.

“I am not saying never, I am only saying for 120 days,” Routledge said. “I am saying we put a moratorium on doing anything further at this point with this project, with these people.”

Council candidate Fred Brooks does not support further reviews or research, calling it a waste of time and money, but neither does he want to see the city move forward on two current options of increasing the spillway labyrinth or overtopping. He says he’d like the opportunity to do a review with fresh eyes and see what needs to be done as opposed to what’s afraid to be done.

Paul Gogo, who is looking for a seat on council, said he’d like to gather the last bit of information, put it all out on the table and make a decision. He said he thinks the dams are fine, but “anything that needs to be remediated, we will do it and keep everybody happy.”

Council candidate Wendy Pratt is in favour of the city doing as much as it needs to do to to satisfy the B.C. Dam Safety Branch.

“Do I have all the answers to the dams as of right now? No I don’t. I am not privy to what city council is privy to, but I have read the reports … and I do believe that we just need to really address this issue in the simplest, most economical and yet safe way for our community,” she said.

If the City of Nanaimo is to start remediation in July, a decision is needed by February to get through the permitting process and design tendering.