The province is preparing to review the City of Nanaimo short-term risk mitigation plan to address public safety concerns with the Colliery dams over the fall and winter months.
Nanaimo council unanimously approved the plan on Monday. The strategy includes monitoring water levels at and near the dams, implementing a network of sirens to alert residents of potential dam failure and launching a public outreach and awareness campaign.
The plan also received the backing from the Colliery Dams Preservation Society, the community group formed in response to the city's original plan to remove the dams this summer, and renaturalize the area, allowing the Chase River to stream through the park.
That course of action was shelved in May, after council decided in a 5-4 vote to remove the dams this summer and develop a plan to replace them with new dams starting in 2014.
In a further twist, that plan was discarded too, after Snuneymuxw First Nation Chief Doug White criticized the city for proceeding without consulting his local band.
White appeared before a packed council meeting on July 8 and urged councillors to begin a 30-day consultation period with the First Nation and delay awarding a tender to tear down the dams.
Council granted the request, which further delayed the plan to remove the dams this year.
On Aug. 7, council voted on staff advice to scrap the tender and continue with talks with the Snuneymuxw, senior governments and the CDPS.
Over the coming months, three groups - the city, the Snuneymuxw and the CDPS - will shape a long-term policy to deal with the dams, which no longer meet seismic standards and are considered a "public safety hazard" by the province.
Leaders from each organization have each stated a desire to work towards a common solution, but also approach the issue from different perspectives.
"... I think that we're on a good path together of being responsible governments in addressing a complex issue," said White.
The Snuneymuxw chief said protection of the Chase River fishery has been an "important dimension" to the issue, but said building a strong relationship with the city has also been a priority.
"I've made it clear that I admired the leadership of the (Mayor John Ruttan) on this issue that he's shown to deal with this complex issue," he said.
The SFN has not yet expressed a preference as to what exactly should be done with the dams. The city is currently investigating the feasibility of using a lower design standard to replace or rehabilitate the dams, which engineers say could reduce costs. White said those findings will play into his council's preference. He said he acknowledges the safety risk posed by the dams, and said SFN has always asserted there are short-term ways to curb that risk.
"Everyone's acting responsibly in the context that we're in to deal with the short-term issues while we build a longer-term solution," he said.
Addressing public safety has been the main priority for Ruttan, who has consistently stated that doing nothing is not an option.
The mayor recently said leaving the dams in place over the winter months is a nagging concern.
"It bothers me," he said. "Unfortunately, there's so many aspects you can't look at it isolation."
CDPS leader Jeff Solomon said his group favours rehabilitating the structures "if at all possible," adding residents want to see "the least intrusive measures to the park and the ecosystem."
Solomon said his group feels that safety concerns regarding the dams have been exaggerated.
SAnderson @nanaimodailynews.com 250-729-4255
COLLIERY DAMS PRESERVATION SOCIETY
MAIN PLAYER: Jeff Solomon, leader
WHY THEY MATTER: Solomon and other Nanaimo residents formed the CDPS last year in opposition to the city's plan to remove the middle and lower Colliery dams this year. The group successfully pressured elected officials to kill the plan to decommission the 100-year-old structures. The group is also involved in discussions to form a long-term plan for the dams.
OBJECTIVES: CDPS want to see minimal disruption to the dams and to Colliery Dam Park. Preserving the lakes at the park is also a priority.
CITY OF NANAIMO
MAIN PLAYERS: Mayor John Ruttan, members of council
WHY THEY MATTER: The city owns the middle and lower Colliery dams. It is responsible for the structures and liable for damages if the dams fail. The city will also have to pay for any rehabilitation, deconstruction or replacement costs, and will have the final say on what will done on the dams.
OBJECTIVES: The city must present a plan to the B.C. Dam Safety Section to bring the dams up to current safety standards. The city is working with the Colliery Dams Preservation Society and the Snuneymuxw First Nation to put together a proposal.
SNUNEYMUXW FIRST NATION
MAIN PLAYER: Chief Doug White
WHY THEY MATTER: White and the SFN objected to the city's plan to remove the dams this summer and replace them in the future, a key reason why council agreed to a 30-day consultation period on the issue. The delay consequently caused the city cancel removing the dams this summer and precipitated the current process.
OBJECTIVES: SFN wants to ensure that any work done at the dam site does not adversely affect the downstream Chase River fishery. The First Nation also wants to build on its relationship with the city.
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