Nanaimo council goes with plans, monitoring for Colliery dams

NANAIMO – Councillors voted 5-3 to submit an emergency plan to the province, and provide notice of other plans in the works.

Nanaimo city council will deliver a revised emergency plan for the Colliery dams to the province this March, despite warnings by city bureaucrats the decision misses the mark.

Nanaimo politicians nixed remediation options in favor of a revised emergency preparedness strategy for the dams during an open meeting Monday. In a 5-3 vote, they also opted for a water surveillance plan and an action plan to route flood waters with a stockpile of materials like sandbags.

City manager Ted Swabey told council he doesn’t believe they will get a favourable response back from dam safety regulators, which sent a letter in late February that ‘already identified’ the motion would unacceptable, and Toby Seward, acting general manager of social and protective services, pointed out the city has already revised its emergency action plan. The Dam Safety Section has also asked for a remediation plan consistent with a commitment council made two years ago and this is not that.

“This is a plan for monitoring safety and what have you,” Seward said.

“What I’m hearing is lock blocks and sandbags would be brought in and stockpiled in case there’s an event come up and as we experienced in mid-December when that event comes up it’s very bad conditions, it’s very difficult to mobilize and get things in place as the water capacity comes in very quickly,” Seward said. “There’d clearly have to be a design for that, that could withstand water flows and things like lock blocks and sandbags … are used certainly along river banks to prevent overflowing but they are not used in a dam situation to my knowledge.”

But Coun. Gord Fuller, who made the motion, sees it as a logical response to the Dam Safety Section and one that meets criteria of least intrusive, environmentally-friendly and cost effective.

He was backed by councillors Bill Yoachim, Jerry Hong, Jim Kipp and Bill Bestwick, after council defeated a previous bid for an auxiliary spillway estimated at $3 to $ 6 million. Mayor Bill McKay and councillors Ian Thorpe and Wendy Pratt were opposed and Coun. Diane Brennan was absent.

“The motion itself doesn’t preclude anything from happening in the future and if the Dam Safety Branch forces us to do something then we’ll have to revisit this,” Fuller said.

Nanaimo city staff laid out options to address potential safety hazards at the Colliery dams, with the province’s March 27 deadline for a remediation plan less than two weeks away.

Thorpe proposed fixing the lower dam with an auxiliary spillway, which he said is the least intrusive and least expensive option to keep the dams in place and satisfy dam safety regulators. He also said failure to comply with what the city’s been directed to do and the deadline given would be irresponsible.

But Kipp and Bestwick both pointed to the need to update the city’s emergency management plan.

Bestwick suggested the city look at an emergency planning model not unlike “what our police and protective services do with an ERT team that is stealth-like.”

“We don’t see them but when we need them they’re there to perform an emergency response task,” said Bestwick, who explained they could use gabion baskets or sandbags when a siren goes off.

The auxiliary spillway motion was defeated 6-2. Fuller’s motion for monitoring and planning will be forwarded to the province.


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