Nanaimo City Council moves ahead with dam removal

NANAIMO – More than 40 people plead with council to consider alternatives at Monday's meeting.

It was a dam filibuster.

More than 40 citizens, concerned about what might become of Colliery Dam Park once the middle and lower dams are removed, pleaded their cases over almost four hours Monday night in an attempt to move council off its decision.

Last month, city council voted 5-4 to remove the dams and rebuild them over time, though there is no definitive plan in place. That vote came after Coun. Fred Pattje’s motion to stave off demolition of both dams until spring 2014 and remove and rebuild both dams in stages until 2015 was voted down 5-4, an option most speakers indicated they were in favour of.

Monday’s opportunity for citizens to address council came through a council vote to obtain authorization for a public tender call to find a company to remove the dams.

Some speeches by delegations brought tears, others laughter, though all carried the common theme of passion for what many consider a south end gem.

Some quotes of those who went before council:

Tim McGrath: “When it comes to reconstruction, there are no permits, no plan, no budget. Failing to plan is like planning to fail.”

Fredrik Collin: “I know council will find justification for not rebuilding them.”

Cathy Davis: “You’ve finally done it, you’ve managed to unite the north and south ends.”

Brunie Brunie: “Why is council not bending over backward to preserve such a beautiful place?”

Ron Stead: “I’ve been known to be nasty. If this goes any further I’m really going to get nasty.”

Joy Sarauer: “We need protection against any commercial or residential development.”

Debbie Bartman: “Please soothe our sleepless nights.”

Terrance Wagstaff: “Good projects stand by themselves.”

Suzanne Deveau: “It’s clean, there is no garbage. It’s a place of pride where youth interact with seniors.”

Catriona Imray: “This is where I go.”

Mike Cass: “There are a million and one options we’re not considering.”

Craig Evans: “I look forward to the day we do the ribbon cutting on dams that are safe.”

At one point, led by banjo-playing delegation Jim Erkiletian, the entire gallery of about 200 people sang We Shall Not be Moved before council, a traditional Nanaimo song once sung by miners on the picket line.

The pleas, or the song, didn’t move council, which voted 5-4 once again to issue a public tender and continue with the removal of the dams, scheduled for sometime in July when water flow is at its lowest.

Earlier on Monday, the B.C. Supreme Court stayed a decision on an application for an injunction by the city in an attempt to pre-emptively address threatened civil disobedience by a local group. That hearing is rescheduled for early July.

Coun. Fred Pattje said until now his personal policy has been to defend decisions council ultimately makes regardless of how he voted. He broke that policy Monday night.

“The first order of business, for me as an individual councillor, is to try to regain some of that trust, if not all of it. We need to do that before anything else because whatever we do is doomed to failure if we do not get that trust back,” he said.

Pattje, who did not vote in favour of issuing the tender, added that he felt city staff and council have not adequately followed up on an offer from Nanaimo-North Cowichan NDP MLA Doug Routley to pursue the issue at the provincial level.

We’ve got an offer to help from a provincial MLA. I think I want to take advantage of that offer mostly because … we need to hear from the Dam Safety Branch’s bosses, that being the Minister of Natural Resources and the Minister of the Environment,” he said.

A recent engineering report estimates that the total cost to remove both dams and rebuild them will cost $11.2 million. Removing both dams and replacing only the lower dam would cost about $9.5 million.

Coun. Diane Brennan, who made the approved motion to remove the dams immediately and rebuild them over time, said citizen safety is paramount.

We understand that the area is critically important to the people of Harewood and, in fact, to the people of Nanaimo … but even the Save the Colliery Dam Preservation Society understands the dams have to come down, they just want to stage it differently,” she said, adding her motion wasn’t “pulled out of thin air”, as some delegations accused, but was based on the engineer’s report.

If I am going to err, I’m going to err on the side of public safety. It would be unconscionable of us to ask the people of Harewood to accept a lower standard of safety than any other area in the province,” said Brennan.

The duration of the meeting forced council to move the remainder of the agenda to a later date.