Snuneymuxw First Nation has withdrawn from a 30-day consultation process with the city over the removal of two dams from Colliery Dam Park.
City council was expected to pick a company to do the dam removal work at a July 8 council meeting, but a presentation from Snuneymuxw Chief Douglas White III prompted Coun. Bill McKay to make a motion to conduct further discussions with the First Nation and exhaust all of the possible options and considerations before awarding the dam removal contract. The motion was amended to include the 30-day window.
But White said Thursday Snuneymuxw is concerned the city is not acting in the spirit of the motion.
He said the motion implied the parties would spend the 30 days exhausting all possible options and considerations, but the city has made it clear no further work will be done to revisit, reassess or confirm information on other options, such as strengthening and repairing the existing dams, which have been deemed a potential threat to human life.
“They made it clear they are not interested in doing any further work,” he said.
White also alleged city staff have told the facilitator appointed to help with the consultation process that those who participate in the 30-day process may have significant liability by virtue of participating.
“There’s no foundation to it as a matter of law,” he said.
White has continually stated that council’s May 13 decision to tear down the dams this year, then rebuild them next year, went in a different direction than what had been talked about up until then and could potentially be the riskiest path to take in terms of the health of the river.
He said the Snuneymuxw continues to be concerned about the Chase River fishery and the First Nation plans to meet with the provincial and federal governments to express those concerns.
“We understand that something has to be done,” said White. “I’m very disappointed that the city didn’t take this opportunity to find a collaborative pathway.”
Katherine Gordon, the facilitator appointed to help with the 30-day consultation period, said in an e-mailed response that she was appointed jointly by the Snuneymuxw and the city with the goal of assisting the parties to work toward a collaborative outcome and since the Snuneymuxw has withdrawn, she is also standing down.
“I remain available to the parties to assist should they decide to continue discussions at a future date,” she wrote.
Mayor John Ruttan said the city has spent more than $600,000 in the past nine months to research the options available and it is at least three times more expensive to fix the old dams than to re-establish the river.
“Every engineering report we’ve had has said that’s not practical and is the most expensive option,” he said. “[White’s] expectation seems to be we would do nine months of work in 30 days and come up with a different conclusion.”
As for the liability issue, Ruttan said he believes staff were explaining that when work to mitigate the safety risk paused for this consultation, the liability issues remained and in fact increased.
“The liability grows with every day we sit back and don’t proceed with a plan of action,” he said. “We’re in a position where we just have to do something.”
Ruttan said council has yet to decide what to do now.