Colliery Dams: reprieve could happen

Fri. Aug. 2/13

Leaving the Colliery dams untouched through the winter season is on the table, the City of Nanaimo and Snuneymuxw First Nation announced Tuesday in a joint press release Tuesday.

The parties say they are making progress in talks over how to proceed with the lower and middle Colliery dams, and added that they have met with representatives from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the B.C. Dam Safety Section to discuss options to address safety risks and liability posed to the city by the ageing dams, which were originally built to wash coal but are now seen by some as valuable recreational fixtures in the Harewood community.

"We are very delighted that officials from the Dam Safety Branch have indicated that they are prepared to work with us as we examine various mitigation solutions, should we all agree at the end of the process (Aug. 8) that the best short-term path forward is to leave both dams in place for the winter," said Mayor John Ruttan.

The dams have the unfortunate distinction of boasting the province's most extreme risk rating, the only structures of their type to achieve that rating.

City council voted on May 13 to remove the dams this summer and to replace the structures with new dams in 2014. However, the plan was put on hold after Snuneymuxw Chief Doug White complained his community had not been consulted before the decision.

White came before council and requested the city and SFN work together on an "exhaustive review" of options to address safety concerns with the dams.

Council agreed in early July to begin a 30-day consultation period with the First Nation community.

SFN pulled out of the talks earlier this month amid concerns that proper consultation wasn't taking place. But a few days later, the First Nation community and a jointly-appointed facilitator were back at the table. "I'm back on the process because I believe we're on the same page again," White said on Tuesday.

City-hired consultants are currently reviewing earlier reports on options to mitigate the safety risks posed by the dams, including rehabilitating or rebuilding one or both of the structures.

The aim is to find potential savings in cost estimates commissioned by the city. White said SFN has also hired SNC Lavalin to review the city's numbers, and said fisheries experts are examining the situation as well. He said SFN does not have any preference for a project timeline.

Original cost estimates acquired by the city were based on a 'no maintenance' standard, meaning that they would remain in good condition following a "catastrophic seismic event," the press release states. "Such a standard is higher than what is required by the Dam Safety Branch, which demands only that the dams not fail," the statement says.


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