Nanaimo council faces deadline on Colliery dams

NANAIMO – Coun. Gord Fuller says issue is about standing up for what’s right.

As Colliery dam advocates rally to attend a city committee of the whole meeting and the Environmental Appeal Board denies a stay, Nanaimo’s mayor voices concern his council could flout provincial law.

“We have to remember we’re a product of the province under the Community Charter,” said Mayor Bill McKay. “We don’t have the right to ignore provincial law.”

Nanaimo is two years and close to $3-million deep into the Colliery dams issue and was on the verge Monday of deciding whether to abide by a provincial government decree or defy it.

The dam spillways aren’t up to standard, according to the B.C. comptroller of water rights, which has issued an order for council to mostly complete remediation on structures this November. With the city’s petition for a stay to pause that requirement now rejected by the Environmental Appeal Board, there’s nothing standing in the way of the city doing the work.

The comptroller has given the city until July 24 to pick a remediation option acceptable to the province and is now considering enforcement and compliance options.

McKay believes the comptroller will use his powers to enforce the Water Act and that to defy the order would be “absolutely reckless.” He says council has to make a decision to remediate the dams and fast, but he’s also concerned council will ignore provincial law.

“I’m concerned and we should be cautioning council that should they disobey the order that’s been given to us that we’re putting the community at significant risk of liability,” he said.

City staff members proposed an auxiliary spillway, estimated at between $2.8 million to $5.5 million to fix the lower dam, during an open meeting Monday.

Coun. Gord Fuller, however, wants to continue to move ahead with a motion that would see the city work on the middle dam first while it creates a select committee and studies the lower structure. It was an alternative dismissed by the province, but to do work on the lower dam without first knowing the flow capacity of the spillway is “ludicrous,” said Fuller, who is prepared to flout the order.

“I am concerned about them coming down on the city. It’s not that I’m not concerned,” he said. “But I think sometimes, you have to stand up for what’s right.”