There was high-fiving in council chambers this week, and for good reason – the city has decided what to do about the Colliery dams.
The lower dam will get a spillway, the floodplain will be safe and sound and the park will mostly be preserved.
City council coming to a consensus is an achievement, but this dam outcome shouldn’t be much cause for celebration. The only reason councillors were able to make a decision is because the decision was made for them. With the province applying pressure, the municipality simply ran out of options and ran out of time.
Two successive city councils backed Nanaimo into this Colliery dams corner. At the start, there was a lack of decision-making as the issue was steered by populist politicking and punted away as the next council’s problem. Current council’s divided approach exacerbated the problem. Calling the province’s bluff was well-intentioned, but it was a risk that didn’t pay off. We’ve asked why councillors who were willing to defy the water comptroller decided against it in the end, but their reasons remain unclear.
If the choice was between a spillway and sanctions, then the city made the right choice. But those were the only two choices precisely because of the city’s actions and inaction.
Nanaimo won’t get much to show for its attention to this issue. We spent $3 million studying the dams, and will now spend $2.8-4.6 million on a spillway we’ve been talking about for two and a half years.
Hardly anybody is going to be satisfied. A few people wanted the dams demolished, most wanted them to stay the same forever and nobody really wanted the dams to be built more massive and mighty.
We’ve had fairly sturdy dams all along; it has been the leadership that has been leaky. If, at the very least, Nanaimo can learn something from this drawn-out dam debacle, then perhaps that would be a good reason for high-fives.