Referendum a solution for cost of dams

NANAIMO – Re: City can’t afford to replace dams, Letters, May 4.

To the Editor,

Re: City can’t afford to replace dams, Letters, May 4.

Charles Thirkill does a disservice to public debate on the question of the Colliery Dam Park dams by imputing irrational, egotistical motives to those who wish to see them saved.

The presentations of the Colliery Dam Preservation Society (to which I do not belong) are certainly not in that category, nor are most of the letters that have inundated the local press in recent weeks.

Thirkill should also pay attention to the facts. The reports just released do not suggest that $20 million will be needed for the fix. In fact, under one possible scenario the net extra cost is $3 million above the cost of demolition at $5.5 million.

Under any scenario the latter is the minimal expenditure required. Three million dollars is what the city found recently, and quite readily, to purchase the old Finlayson property at Neck Point.

Further, the under-utilized cruise ship facility has nothing to do with this particular situation –  that’s the Nanaimo Port Authority’s responsibility and mercifully property taxation is not required to keep it going.

Although Thirkill is keen on seeing the Chase River returned to the salmon fishery, he provides no estimates of the possible financial benefit or the extra cost of rehabilitating the entire river system to make that possible.

On the other hand, the community has clearly come to love and support the dams and the park.  And clearly the public sees the dams as integral to the park.

The best way for council to deal with this situation is to let the public decide by referendum whether it supports putting money into either the restoration or the reconstruction of the dams.

If the surprisingly less expensive reconstruction option can be made to emulate the appearance of the structures now in place, it may well be the preferred course of action — but the public should make the call. If necessary, the dams can be drained until a referendum is held coincidental with the next civic elections.

Finally, not to be forgotten in the overall picture is the fact that the Colliery dams are one of the few visible reminders of the industry that built Nanaimo and sustained it for the better part of 100 years. They have high heritage value.

The past is important to our understanding of who we are — and for many additional reasons it can serve our future very well.

Eric Ricker