Interim safety measures in action for Colliery dams

Nanaimo city council approved a new short term mitigation plan for the Colliery dams. Bigger question of structures' fate to be addressed.

A Nanaimo city councillor is urging spending precautions as short-term safety plans for the Colliery dams are put in motion.

Nanaimo city council voted unanimously to act on new short-term mitigation measures for the Colliery dams Monday.

The strategy, geared to roll out over the next seven weeks, will use water monitoring, neighbourhood information blitzes and new warning sirens to scale back potential hazards posed by the middle and lower dams. There will also be community emergency drills for 1,800 people that live immediately downstream of the century-old structures —which the B.C. Dam Safety Branch has designated as an extreme public risk during a major earthquake or flood.

Council members thanked those involved in the plan for finding ways to address public safety issues in the interim, but some worried about costs. Coun. Jim Kipp said he was concerned about spending money on an “unprioritized emergency and safety risk,” while Coun. Bill Bestwick urged city staff members to use caution when acting on the new strategy.

The new measures are expected to cost between $50,000 and $100,000, but could go as high as $200,000, according to Toby Seward, the city’s  general manager of community safety and development.

The expense will add to the $700,000 already spent to determine the fate of Colliery Dam Park and is expected to come from this year’s budget.

While protecting public safety is important —“Surely I trust we will be very cautious in our expenditures as we move forward with some of these suggestions,” Bestwick said.

The new plan was created with the help of the community groups like the Colliery Dam Preservation Society and Snuneymuxw First Nation. Jeff Solomon with the preservation society, said he hopes the initiative will eventually be used as part of a city-wide emergency planning framework.

The initiative will involve new emergency information signs around the Harewood neighbourhood and sirens similar to Tsunami alert systems in Tofino and Port Alberni. City officials are now seeking sole-source contracts to install the  siren systems and  help address other key projects in the  short-term mitigation plan.

Brian Clemens, the city’s director of finance, said money spent will come out of this year’s budget and will not affect taxes in 2014. But the initiatives prelude the larger question of what happens to the dams over the long term. The answer could hold tax implications for Nanaimo, he said.

“I don’t want to downplay the amount it’s cost for design…or mitigation, but the actual capital project—what we are going to do with repairs or removal—is going to be the most expensive part of it,” Clemens said.