UPDATE: Nanaimo council votes unanimously to postpone Colliery dam removal

NANAIMO – Short-term mitigation measure to be implemented within 60 days.

Nanaimo’s Colliery dams will not be torn out this summer after all.

Nanaimo city council unanimously agreed  to cancel the tender to remove the middle and lower Colliery dams during an open meeting Wednesday.

According to Mayor John Ruttan, a recent 30-day consultation process with  Snuneymuxw First Nation precluded any reasonable chance at removing the dams in Harewood this season. City staff members have also not been able to complete research into “all possible options and considerations” for the structures — a requirement of talks with Snuneymuxw.

City council opted to follow staff recommendations to cancel deconstruction and look at short-term mitigation for the dams, which they believe still poses a liability risk for Nanaimo. The dams are considered by the B.C. Dam Safety Branch to be at high risk of failing in a major earthquake. Officials have also agreed to engage community groups and Snuneymuxw  in drawing up a new strategy to address dam safety issues.

Just over $2 million will be used for future mitigation work at Colliery Dam Park.

“We have come full circle on this. We have listened to our citizens,” said Coun. Diana Johnstone, adding that public safety has always been of utmost concern.

“I have every confidence with the ability of staff and the input we are going to get from the community that the issue will be addressed. I pray…that we have a good winter and no flooding issues and we can get the mitigation in place so that none of our citizens will be harmed.”

More than 50 residents attending the Wednesday meeting cheered the decision and thanked Snuneymuxw Chief Douglas White III for instigating an 11th-hour consultation that halted plans to demolish the dams. The city intended to tear out the dams in July.

Nanaimo politicians also took the time Wednesday to address the crowd with thank-you speeches. Councillors commended Snuneymuxw and its participation in the consultation process and residents’ efforts to save the dams.

“If you don’t persevere and if you lay down, then typically you get what you deserve,” said Coun. Bill Bestwick. “I want to give a huge congratulations to those people from Harewood and beyond…for continuing their spirit to not give up. It makes me very proud to be from Nanaimo to know we still have that in us.”

The fate of the Colliery dams has been hanging in the balance since last October, when council decided to demolish the middle and lower structures over a reported public safety hazard. The ensuing community outrage had council members opting to tear down the dams this summer and rebuild the following year. Residents, however, feared the rebuild would never happen, and White was concerned about potential adverse effects the project would have on the Chase River fishery. The concerns prompted a consultation process, which wrapped up today.

Nanaimo city officials will expect to have short term mitigation measures within 60 days.