Province serves formal order to city on Colliery dams

City council was expected to decide next steps at a Monday committee of the whole meeting after receiving a formal order from the province.

The province has started the clock on remediation of the Colliery dams.

Glen Davidson, B.C.’s comptroller of water rights, has slapped the City of Nanaimo with a formal order to remediate the Colliery dams in the next six months.

According to the document, the city failed to comply with the province’s request for revised plans for the lower and middle Colliery dams and their potential safety hazards. Now the province is giving the city two options to address safety at the Colliery dams – an $8.1-million labyrinth spillway or $3 million to $6 million auxiliary spillway – and timelines to get the work done.

The city has to pick an option to address the lower dam before the start of May and hand over a design report and construction plan by May 22. Work must be completed within six months.

The municipality can appeal the order, but the process doesn’t suspend the requirements it has to follow.

Toby Seward, the city’s acting general manager of community development and protective services, said it’s a serious issue to get to a stage where an order is made and can’t ever recall seeing one like this from the province.

He also said the timelines are “extremely difficult to achieve.”

A staff report recommending the auxiliary spillway option is expected a committee of the whole meeting this afternoon (April 13).

“They are basically saying everything has to be done by Oct. 15. If everything went according to plan possibly we’d get there, but it’s an extremely tight time frame because we have to do a design, permits, referral process, tendering and construction all within that six month period and normally that would take a longer period of time,” Seward said. “If we get the go ahead on Monday then we have to move extremely quickly in an attempt to meet those timelines.”

The response from Davidson, sent April 9, wasn’t unexpected for Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay, who points out that they didn’t do what they were directed to do by the Dam Safety Section. The city was instructed to come up with revised plans for the middle and lower dams by the end of March, with timelines and actions to address potential safety hazards. Council voted to send a series of plans for the structures, including emergency preparedness and water surveillance.

The province now considers the city non-compliant with the Water Act.

McKay said they now need to come together as a group and determine next steps, but believes there is still the opportunity to present the safety section with an 11th-hour alternative to fix the dams.

“The DSS from everything I’ve ever seen they simply want to see that we have the dams capable of doing what they need them to do by regulation,” he said, although he agrees the city faces tight timelines regardless of the option chosen.