NEWSMAKERS: Solomon leads opposition to dam removal

NANAIMO – Jeff Solomon was chosen as one of the News Bulletin's newsmakers of 2013.

Jeff Solomon led opposition to Nanaimo city council's decision to remove the middle and lower Colliery dams.

Jeff Solomon led opposition to Nanaimo city council's decision to remove the middle and lower Colliery dams.

More than a year has passed since the city first announced in October 2012 that the Colliery Park dams had to be torn out.

Since then dozens of people have jumped on a bandwagon loaded with debate over whether to save or destroy the century-old structures, but the man pulling that wagon from the start is Harewood resident Jeff Solomon, who described the park, in a November 2012 letter to the editor, as a place that is part of Harewood’s heritage that defines the lifestyle in that district.

Provincial Dam Safety Branch studies suggested an earthquake or extreme rainfall could cause the dams to collapse, triggering a flash flood down the Chase River watercourse through Harewood that could kill an estimated 150 people.

Risk notwithstanding, there was a huge outpouring of support from Harewood residents for keeping the dams. In November last year, about 500 people who attended a rally, co-organized by Solomon at John Barsby Secondary School, made no bones they wanted the city to consider other options.

When the Colliery Dam Preservation Society was formed, Solomon became its spokesman and eventually its president.

Solomon helped keep the city and city council in the hot seat by ratcheting up public awareness through the media. He challenged the city’s data about the costs to tear out the dams, versus rebuilding them, and the level of risk they pose.

Demolition work, scheduled to begin in July, work was put on hold – and remains on hold – after Snuneymuxw First Nation Chief Doug White made a presentation to city council demonstrating dam removal could be environmentally damaging to fish habitat in the Chase River Estuary.

Solomon today is a member of a technical committee formed in October, comprised of preservation society representatives, Snuneymuxw, city staff, professional engineers and construction specialists, that is determining the long-range options for remediation of the potential risks posed by the dams.