Nanaimo school district expresses concerns about Colliery Dams

NANAIMO – School board worried about the potential damage that could occur should the dams fail.

Nanaimo school board is expressing concern about the potential damage that could occur to John Barsby Community School should the Colliery Dams fail.

The school district drafted and sent a letter to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, asking that Minister Steve Thomson require the City of Nanaimo to take “immediate action to address the risks to life and property posed by the unsafe dams.”

According to board chair Jamie Brennan, not only do the dams present a hazard to John Barsby but also to Little Ferns Early Learning Centre, which is on the site of the community school. He estimates the dams are about 1.5 kilometres away from the two.

“Read the letter from the dam safety officer – it’s a significant hazard. It’s not something to be ignored and that’s why were doing this,” Brennan said. “The safety of the students is our primary concern and that is what motivated us – we’re not looking for publicity, we’re looking at removing the threat.”

Members of both Nanaimo city council and the school board met recently to discuss the situation, at which time the city informed the school board about mitigation measures it was taking and the board informed the city of its intent to correspond with the ministry.

Mayor John Ruttan said he understands the school board’s point of view but the city isn’t going to change its plans based on the letter.

“We share the same concerns, because I think the underlying thing we need to all understand is we’re all dealing with risk – risk to the public, risk to students and risk to the community and so until such time as work is undertaken to mitigate the risk in some form, the risk goes on and we need to do all that we can to protect our citizens,” Ruttan said. “Community safety, obviously, is our foremost concern. That’s what we’re all trying to address in one form or the other and I take the letter from the school district as expressing concern for their part that the risk continues on and I understand that. From our side within the city, we are trying to move as quickly as we can.”

Ruttan said the city continues with a short-term mitigation plan, which he is hoping comes before council on Sept. 9, and work on a long-term plan would come after that.

Brennan said the school board had been informed of the hazard last October – when it was stated that the dams would be removed – and safety plans had been worked on.

“We directed our safety people to conduct evacuation exercises and have an evacuation plan for John Barsby and for Little Ferns,” said Brennan. “Plan A is if there’s adequate warning, the kids would move to Georgia Avenue school, which is nearby. If there was inadequate warning and the water was close at hand, then they would go to the top floor of John Barsby school. We’ve been expecting the city to direct the removal of the dams, because that’s what they told us in October and we’ve been sort of watching things unfold as the process carried on.”