Renovation and repair of the middle and lower Colliery dams is the main focus of a two-year, long-term proposal coming before Nanaimo councillors on Monday.
A staff report recommends an extensive process that could see construction work on the dams go ahead starting from June to September in 2015, following recommendations from a newlyformed technical committee with input from community members.
The work is required to address the public safety risk officials and engineering reports say the ageing structures pose to the Harewood neighbourhood, should they fail due to a major earthquake or rainfall event.
The recommendation's in Monday's report marks a major shift on the part of the city, which had previously approved two separate plans: one to remove the structures and renaturalize the area, and another to replace the dams entirely.
Toby Seward, Nanaimo general manager of community safety and development, said the recommendations are based on months of feedback from the community and key groups.
"We've looked at removal and renaturalization, that's gone by the wayside," he said. "Clearly the people that have come forward have said, 'we'd like to see the remediated in place."
He said the city also believes removing the dams would present significant problems, such as dealing with the flow of sediment downstream into the Chase River fishery, a major concern for the Snuneymuxw First Nation.
"It's still potentially something that could come up in a discussion, but clearly from staff's perspective, let's go to the solution that appears to meet the objectives of all groups, though it's costly," Seward said.
Going forward, he said, the process would focus on finding the 'best' solution for remediating the century-old dams, which were originally built to wash coal, but are now valued by many for their recreational and historical value. The proposal could see short-term construction work go ahead on the dams starting next September to mitigate safety concerns, a possibility city hall believes is likely. As a result of the process, costs on the project - already estimated to be $850,000 to date - would continue to climb between $100,000 and $400,000, according to the city staff report. That does not include construction costs that may be required for shortterm risk mitigation in 2014 or longer-term construction costs for the dams.
What the cost does include is solesourced contracts for consultants with engineering and geotechnical expertise on dams and related fields. The contractors would form part of a technical committee also made up of a hired facilitator and representatives from the city staff, Snuneymuxw First Nation and the Colliery Dams Preservation Society. That committee would be responsible for gathering information and developing options for remediating the dams over a threephase process. An executive group made up of senior city staff and SFN advisors appointed by Chief Doug White would oversee the committee's work and eventually report to council.
The 2013-17 city financial plan has set aside a total $7 million for the project. Remediation, deemed to be the most expensive option before the city, could cost taxpayers between $17.8 million and $23.6 million, or between $13.1 million and $17.8 million, depending on the design standard. The figures come from an August report provided by engineering firm Klohn Crippen Berger, which has done other engineering reports on the dams.
City politicians and civil servants have been working for more than a year on the issue ever since the dams were flagged by the B.C. Dam Safety Section as below current safety standards.
In May, city council voted 5-4 to remove the dams this year, and work towards building replacement dams starting in 2014. But that course of action was also scrapped after city staff advised council that ongoing consultations with SFN had delayed construction work too far into the federal time frame for construction on the Chase River. On Aug. 7, council voted to scrap the tender to remove the dams and prepare a short-term risk management plan until a long-term plan was formed and finalized.
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