Tag Archives: nanaimo

Colliery Dams: money, fear, deadlines

At the March 16, 2015 Council meeting there was visible tension between members on Council and the Mayor.  Was it because of the Colliery Dam issue?

That night nine residents spoke about their concerns regarding Colliery Dams — here are some them:

  • the pool of chlorinated water stored above the dams
  • lack of data on spillway capacity
  • flawed data that led to bloated estimates
  • City generated its own reports
  • possible conflict of interest
  • climate change and lack of water

At the meeting MLA Doug Routley was invited to speak by Councillor Bestwick. Routley assured people he had spoken to  Steve Thomson the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources who was aware of the residents concerns.  Routley encouraged Council to take time and listen to their citizens.

Colliery Dams showing alternate drainage course
Colliery Dams showing alternate drainage course flow into Harewood Creek in Nanaimo

After Routly spoke, the City Manager objected to Routley’s comments, implying doing nothing was not an option and the City must move ahead with repairs.

Councillor  Yoachim invited Chief White to speak at the meeting .  Mayor McKay objected, saying that White was not the current Chief.

That night Council discussed two choices to fix the dams put forward by City staff:

  • Install an auxiliary spillway for the Lower Colliery Dam
  • Build a labyrinth spillway  or add more fill for an overtopping option

During the debate it was clear that council didn’t know the full estimates of these projects.  Approximately $8 million was suggested by City staff. Both options were defeated.

The original estimate in October 2012 was for $30 million when the City first proposed to fix the dams.

Councillor Yoachim’s motion
At the February 2, 2015 meeting Council voted 5 to 3 in favour of Yoachim’s five-step motion:

  1. not proceed with any design work or expenditure for the alternate drainage
    course/swale for the Lower Colliery Dam;
  2. consult with and engage other primary stakeholders including Snuneymuxw First Nation, the Colliery Dam Park Preservation Society, and the general  public in order to revise as deemed necessary the Dam Safety Management  Program (latest version February 2013) which revision will reflect the recent  change in classification and in addition to revise the emergency plan and  measures, including signage and monitoring measures;
  3. report on the revisions determined from the above and to seek Council’s
    further direction at that time;
  4. consult and engage the primary stakeholders named above in any and all
    future process and planning, including any proposed remedial measures
    regarding the Colliery Dams Park;
  5. amend the Schedule for Remediation to reflect the current lowered
    classification to permit more time to investigate and prepare a revised plan
    for any required remediation when determined and to inform the Dam Safety
    Section of the above direction by Council.

No action was taken on Yoachim’s motion. Why was his motion ignored?

Following Council’s Meeting of Feburary 2nd the City wrote to the DSS (Dam Safety Section) advising Yoachim’s motion had passed.

Threats and more threats
On February 25th DSS wrote to the City and asked that they prepare a revised plan and timeline and requested a response by February 27th (later it was extended to March 27th).

Outlined in the letter  from DSS were warnings that failure to comply would result in:

  • potentially an offence under the Water Act
  • cancellation of water licences
  • City could lose control over decision making for the dams
  • the dams could be drained

Mayor McKay expressed his concern about being personally liable at one council meeting. McKay mentioned that at a dinner party he spoke to a well known politician and lawyer, who advised him he could be in legal trouble if he didn’t support fixing the dams.

Why doesn’t the City of Nanaimo have a lawyer on staff?

At the March 16th Council meeting delegates spoke asking the Mayor and any council members to bow out of voting on the Colliery Dams topic if they thought their assets and interests were in conflict with the City.

Who asked for the report?
This entire mess started with the City of Nanaimo paying for its own engineering report.  The DSS asked: what does the City intend to do to address the potential safety hazards identified by engineering consultants hired by the City?  It appears that so far the City has employed only one engineering company to study the problem. It has already been determined that the initial data used was flawed.

Is this a make work project? $2.5 million has already been spent on consultants to study the Colliery Dam issue. In the meantime the overflow drainage hole to release water has been plugged with concrete.  No water can escape.

Councillor Fuller’s motion:
At the March 16, 2015 Council meeting Councillor Fuller made his first appearance back.   After hour and half Councillor Yoachim interrupted the meeting to welcome back Fuller.  Clearly there was a lot of tension beween Mayor McKay and Councillor Fuller that night.

Councillor Fuller’s motion passed 5 supporting and 3 against. The Mayor, Councillors Pratt and Thorpe opposed. The motion read:

That staff work with the Colliery Dams Technical Committee:

  1. to develop and implement a revised and comprehensive Colliery Dams Emergency Preparedness Plan that describes the actions to be taken in the event of an emergency at the Colliery Dams, and to submit the plan for acceptance by the Dam Safety Officer by March 27, 2015;
  2. to develop and implement a Colliery Dams Surveillance Plan by a date to be determined in cooperation with the DSS that allows the City to track potential flood events and measure water flow and volume in the Colliery Dams;
  3. to develop and implement a Colliery Dams Flood Routing Capacity Action Plan, including the stockpiling of necessary materials to be utilized in accordance with the Action Plan, by a date to be determined in cooperation with the Dam Safety Branch to prevent risk of overtopping of the Colliery Dams in the event of a significant flood;
  4. to confirm with the DSS Comptroller of Water Rights that the combination of revised and comprehensive plans listed below provides an acceptable approach to issues identified in his letter of February 25, 2015;

a. Colliery Dams Emergency Preparedness Plan;
b. Colliery Dams Surveillance Plan;
c. Colliery Dams Flood Routing Capacity Action Plan

Correspondence with the BC Dams Safety Branch Comptroller of Water Rights is forwarded to Mayor & Council prior to being sent.

Dams are just fine
While the current Mayor was campaigning for votes during the last civic election he was quoted as saying, “the dams are just fine”. What has changed?

Councillor Kipp raised the issue that there are at least 20 other sites of concern around the City of Nanaimo. Old coal mines throughout the City have left huge potenial sink holes.

The March 27th deadline set by the DSS has passed. What happens now? The Colliery Dam story is not over.

Austerity budgets
The Council has voted to bring in a Core Review and control the budget. Will anyone look into how much is being spent on consultants?

Nanaimo’s Watershed guardians sound alarm

Nanaimo’s watershed was a hot topic at last Monday’s Nanaimo council COW meeting. There were four speakers who made presentations regarding the Nanaimo watershed. These concerned citizens want to start a process to make the Nanaimo community drinking watershed a publicly owned and controlled asset.

Two speakers raised the following questions:

  • Could the City of Nanaimo find a way to purchase Nanaimo’s watershed?
  • Could the City of Nanaimo set up a ‘Nanaimo Watershed Board’?
  • What sub-surface activities are allowed to take place in Nanaimo’s watershed?

A petition was presented to council with over 1,300 names asking for the City of Nanaimo to take action to purchase the watershed.

Here are some of the highlights from the speakers’ presentations:

The new provincial Water Sustainability Act contains a section dealing with Watershed Governance. The regulations surrounding this section are in the process of being developed.

Due to the E & N Land Grant of the 1800’s, the land contained within Nanaimo’s watershed is, in fact, stolen land…. stolen from First Nations and is now being challenged by the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The ultimate goal is to ensure sufficient, clean fresh water now and into the future. Water is the foundation of both resilient communities and a robust economy.

How to protect Nanaimo’s drinking water

Three options are available to protect Nanaimo’s watershed and have clean drinking water for a growing population.

  • Purchase the lands around Jump Lake
  • Expropriate the entire watershed
  • Work towards a local watershed governance structure

The land within Nanaimo’s watershed is currently said to be owned by Island Timberlands and TimberWest Forestry Companies.  It is only because of the goodwill of these logging companies that water is available.

There is no agreement between the City of Nanaimo nor the Regional District of Nanaimo and the timber companies, for usage of or access to Nanaimo’s watershed.

This lack of foresight is of heightened concern as logging companies morph into development companies, having the ability to sell off watershed lands.

There are only two cities in British Columbia that own their watersheds:  Victoria and Vancouver.  Neither of these cities has had to install expensive water treatment plants at a huge cost to the taxpayers. Why is this?

The forests within the watersheds of both Victoria and Vancouver do not allow any trespass, human activity, development or industrial activity within them. The watershed lands have been brought back to their natural state.  Trees and undergrowth have established root systems that act as natural filters for clean drinking water.

When land is cleared  in watersheds, excess water rushes down hillsides taking the earth with it and contaminating drinking water. This is what Nanaimo experienced in December 2014 with a boil-water advisory.

New Water Filtration Plant

The City of Nanaimo is currently spending approximately $84 million on building a new water filtration plant to improve the quality drinking water. Would this have been necessary if the watershed was not disturbed? Why spend all this money when the watershed lands could be sold to whomever?

The City of Nanaimo plans to add a $100 million new water storage facility near Jump Lake.

The Vancouver Island Water Watch group recommends all stakeholders come together  and begin creating a Nanaimo Watershed Board in order to protect Nanaimo’s watershed.

What if Nanaimo’s watershed was sold? Where would citizens get their water?

Nanaimo's Watershed is 83,000 hectares or 341 square miles
Nanaimo’s Watershed is 83,000 hectares or 341 square miles

Two professional foresters  gave a presentation on behalf of the timber companies.

Councillor Pratt asked if they knew how much the watershed lands were worth. The reply was no idea and the land is not for sale.

Mayor and council discussed for approximately 45 minutes if they should set up a Nanaimo Watershed Board. The City Manager suggested that City staff could put together a report so Council would have more information to make a decision.

Lessons from Shawnigan Lake

The Shawnigan Lake watershed was originally owned by one owner.  The land was sold,  clear-cut, subdivided, and sold again. Now there are many landowners, engaged in many activities, including four mining operations. One owner has a permit from the Ministry of the Environment to fill a rock quarry with toxic contaminated soil. This contaminated soil dump is approximately 15 meters from Shawnigan creek, the main tributary to Shawnigan Lake, the drinking water supply for 12,000 people.

At question period a speaker from Shawnigan Lake spoke about their watershed problems.  The residents have launched a million dollar lawsuit to try and protect their water from toxic waste contaminating their drinking water. The speaker encouraged others to lobby the provincial government for watershed lands to be protected throughout the province.

Nanaimo Watershed after 20 years 1994-2014
Nanaimo Watershed after 20 years 1994-2014 clear cut logging slowly coming back

There are 20 sub-watersheds that make up the Nanaimo watershed which drains into the Nanaimo River system.

86% of the Nanaimo Watershed has been logged and second growth forest is gradually coming back.

Nanaimo River Watershed Roundtable began in 2011. It was the start of a conversation but Councillor Yoachim commented that Snuneymuxw First Nation was not invited. Councillor Kipp replied that several email invitations were sent to the SFN but no one was available to participate. It was not clear at the council meeting as to what progress the roundtable had made.  Weyerhaeuser once owned the lands in Nanaimo’s watershed which were then sold to Island Timberlands. Apparently, the logging in the picture above was done under Weyerhaeuser ownership.

Brookfield Asset Management

Brookfield Asset Management, along with two Canadian institutional partners, established Island Timberlands in 2005 with lands from Weyerhaeuser’s coastal assets.

In 2008, Brookfield Asset Management, which owns 50 percent of Island Timberlands, sold its timber and power assets to a Bermuda-based partnership.

Island Timberlands has 14,000 hectares of Vancouver Island identified as “higher and better-use” properties that could be developed or sold. In the nine months ending September  30, 2007,  Island Timberlands  sold $14 million of those properties for a net gain of $7 million.

LNG and watersheds

With new LNG plants planned for Port Alberni and Campbell River could fracking in Vancouver Island watersheds become a reality?

Here is the Nanaimo Watershed video presentation that was made to City Council on Monday night.

Wellcox Lands Soil Contamination and Taxes

At this Monday night’s Nanaimo council meeting there are some interesting topics on the agenda for the public to follow:

1) council meeting times—do they stay the same or change?
2) 2015 property taxes
3) Wellcox Lands soil contamination study
4) 614 Lambert Ave from 1 lot to 10 lots

Nanaimo residential property taxes over next 5 years


The taxes for 2015 have been reduced from 1.8% to 1%.  The suggested 2015 budget  items to cut are:

  • remove budget for 3 additional RCMP members · $326,000
  • reduce management consultant budget · $91,510
  • reduce staff training budget · $76, 490
  • reduce firefighters clothing budget · $25,000
  • increase aquatic centre fees · $75,000
  • eliminate parks recreation and environmental master plan · $75,000
  • reduce Linley Valley improvement project · $50,000
  • eliminate fire training reserve · $25,000

The total proposed budget cuts amount to $744,000.

If the fire hall on Hammond Bay Road goes ahead in 2015 then staffing costs will increase to $1 million per year.

Welllcox Lands
A detailed site investigation has been completed of the Wellcox Lands site contamination. A full presentaton will be given by the City’s real estate manager at the next council meeting.

Wellcox Lands Nanaimo
$200K in soil contamination studies planned for 2015 at Wellcox Lands Nanaimo

In March 2013, the City of Nanaimo purchased 26.7 acres (10.8 ha) of land at 1 Port Drive.

The area was originally filled in by the Vancouver Coal Mining Company. The coal mine stopped operation in 1953.  The land was sold to CP Rail who then developed the Wellcox  Yard for transportation and distribution of goods.

Seaspan Corporation occupies 15.5 acres, Island Corridor Foundation and Southern Rail occupy 2.53 acres.  The City terminated the lease to Island Pallet Solutions and demolished the buildings over the 1 acre site. Now the City has a tenative lease with Island Ferries for 2.35 acres. Also, 3  acres are set aside for a transportation hub.

Soil contamination
In 2009, a study was done by SNC Lavalin on the entire Wellcox Lands regarding the contamination hot spots. A budget of $210,000 has been set aside to continue soil testing and sampling groundwater for 2015.

Harewood Neighbourhood plan will gets some changes with the new subdivision at 614 Lambert Avenue. One lot is to be subdivided into ten small lots.  Many speakers have come to council before to express their concerns over small lot developments in Nanaimo with no provision made for boulevards or green spaces.

Update February 17, 2015: what happened at Nanaimo Council on Monday night:
Council and Committee of the Whole meetings will continue to be held on Monday nights. There was no motion to move the meetings to Thursdays during the day. Agendas for meetings are to be ready earlier at 12pm on Tuesday.

Vote on taxes is delayed until the next COW meeting. Councillors Kipp, Hong, Yoachim and Bestwick voted against the 1% tax increase this year as they wanted to see further tax cuts. The motion to pass the 1% tax increase failed as it was a tie vote 4 against and 4 supporting.

Councillor Kipp next put forward a motion for a 2% tax cut. This motion failed with a tie vote, 4 against and 4 supporting.

The Nanaimo Chamber representative gave a presentation to council and requested that they not raise commercial taxes from now until 2020.

In the City’s presentation to council on the Wellcox Lands it was mentioned site remediation could cost between $10 and $30 million to clean up the site depending on what was discovered. Council approved $210,000 for continued soil contamination studies.

Councillor Bestwick asked and received confirmation that a First Nations midden was found when the Island Pallet building and foundation was removed. Councillor Yoachim, a member of Snuneymuxw First Nation, made no comment regarding the discovery of the archaeological site.

Canadian Culture Nanaimo and Reading Town

Nanaimo Council passed the budget to fund culture in the city. The culture budget included $231,826 for operating culture events and $30,330 for festivals. This works out to a total of $262,156 or $3 per person in taxes.

Arts, culture, and heritage organizations in Nanaimo contribute $93 million in direct economic benefits to the local community, creating 880 direct jobs and $7 million in tax revenues.

This begs the question: Why don’t we give more funding to culture if it is such an excellent economic driver in our community?

Currently, the City spends $21.5 million a year on policing services. This pays for the 140 member station. Why isn’t a few million set aside for culture? Why not get youth off the streets and into arts and culture?

At the January  council meeting Councillor Kipp raised a point that 5 groups share approximately $170,000 and 19 groups share $54,000. Two groups taking the lions’ share are the Symphony and TheatreOne.

The City’s budget has grown from $171 million to $200 million in recent years. The City funds Nananimo Economic Development Corporation (NEDCOR) at approximately $2 million a year. Imagine if the same amount of money went directly to arts and culture.

A presentation was made to Nanaimo Council in January by the Nanaimo African Heritage Society who had asked for $7,500 and received $1,100.  They received the lowest amount of any group.

If the federal government diverted some of the $680 million dollars it spends a year on advertising  to local arts and culture imagine what a strong Canadian culture there would be.

Canadian Content
Reading and writing is critical to keeping culture alive. Could Nanaimo become the next Reading Town Canada?

In 2012 a National Reading Campaign was sponsored by TD Canada. “Reading Town Canada” aims to develop a coordinated national strategy to promote reading books with Canadian content.  This year from May 3rd to 10th Charlottetown, PEI will be the 2015 Reading Town.

Canadian content regulations were first drafted back in the 1970s. Back then people were very concerned about the Americanization of our Canadian culture. Ultimately, Canadian content boils down to what is local. It take time, money and effort to nurture and grow the Canadian cultural experience.

Canada gets a new flag
$24,000 to design Canada’s Flag: “Sheer genius! Bar and Leaf!.. like Hammer and Sickle! Crown and Anchor! Ham and Eggs! His and Hers! … cartoon by Norris (1970)

Fifty years ago  Canada raised its ‘new’ maple leaf flag.

On Feb. 15, 1965 the Canadian Red Ensign was lowered and the new Canadian Maple Leaf flag was raised for the first time on Parliament Hill.

What cultural investment has the current federal government made especially in smaller centers?

Flags of the times

Canadians are overwhelmed with American sports and culture. It is a sign of the times when government offices and BC Ferries hoist the 12th Man flag.

Will the next flag hoisted be the Stars & Stripes with a small 51 on the bottom? Have Americans ever hoisted a flag for Canadian sports or culture?

BC Ferries 12man flag
12th man flag hoisted by BC Ferries Jan 30, 2015

Closed Doors and Colliery Dams

Two important motions will be on the agenda at the Nanaimo Council meeting Monday, February 2nd:

  • COW meetings
  • Colliery Dams

Councillor Fuller has long been a proponent of keeping Council meetings and COW meetings public and televised. Preserving Colliery Dams is another topic Fuller is passionate about. It is an unfortunate coincidence that both of these topics are taking place when he won’t be there. Let’s hope that the remaining councillors pick up the torch in honour of Councillor Fuller.

All meetings should be recorded and available for viewing on the City’s website. $200 million of your tax dollars is being spent every year by the City of Nanaimo. One would think that the Mayor and Council would want to protect themselves from accusations of wrongdoing.

Colliery Dams
The Dam Safety Section (DSS) has lowered the failure consequence classification for both the middle and lower Colliery Dams.

  • Middle Chase River Dam – high
  • Lower Chase River Dam – very high

The City has been asked by DSS to prepare a revised remediation plan by  February 27, 2015. Two remediation options for the Colliery Dams are:

  • building a labyrinth spillway (~ $8.1 million)
  • overtopping (~ $7.3 million)

It looks like the City favours the labyrinth spillway option which would cost approximately $8.1 million.

The spillway entrance is proposed to be located about 10 meters to the south of the existing spillway. This would be an open channel spillway of 10 meters wide and 6 meters deep with 10 meter sides.

Has anyone given the heritage status of the Colliery Dams any consideration in the process?

Currently, the City spends approximately $250,000 a year monitoring nine city dams which include the middle and lower Colliery Dams. Recently, a  report was completed on water distribution, capacity of the spillway, and drainage to Harewood Creek. The report can be seen on the City’s website.

The DSS is located on Labieux Road in Nanaimo. Are they functioning at arms length from projects in Nanaimo?

Does the Colliery Dam remediation reek of a multi-million dollar public works project to benefit the concrete and consultant kings of the world? To date, consultants’ fees for the Colliery Dams reports have cost Nanaimo taxpayers approximately $2.5 million.

******** Update: February 3, 2015******

At last night’s Nanaimo council meeting a motion was made by Councillor Pratt to have the COW meetings remain on Monday nights and have the agendas available earlier so everyone could better prepare for the meetings. This voted passed.  Three Councillors opposed: Hong, Kipp, and Bestwick.

City staff to work out the details on how advanced agendas can be achieved.

Discussion on the topic:

Hong: …who watches Shaw TV… my parents couldn’t get the election results…they are so slow…people can go to Nanaimo Info Blog the next day and find out what went on….

Bestwick: …why don’t we put a table in the middle…we need to get back to a committee style meeting [sit around and whisper in each other’s ear]….this is too formal…it’s like having two council meetings… it is not working….

Kipp:…what is the big deal people can watch it later…people probably flip channels…[after Kipp’s motion didn’t pass at question period]… I will bring this back in 6 months….

Two presentations by the public in support of televised and recorded COW meetings.

Long time council watcher made a flip flop during question period and questioned what was the big deal about having the meetings broadcast live on Shaw TV.

Colliery Dams Vote:
Seven speakers on the topic. Three speakers from the civilian technical team. All spoke of inadequate information such as spillway size and drainage.

Councillor Yoachim raised a motion for work on the dams not to proceed, consult with stakeholders and amend the schedule for the Dam Safety Section.

Yoachim’s motion passed with all in favour but one, Councillor Brennan opposed.

No more live streaming Nanaimo council meetings?

Councillor Kipp made a motion earlier this year to have council meetings moved from Monday to Thursday nights.  Now there is a problem. A BIG problem.

To review, the motion was:

  • Move Council meetings to the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of each month.
  • Move Committee of the Whole (COW) Meetings to the  2nd and 4th Thursday of each Month.

The problem is Shaw Cable CAN’T broadcast live on Thursdays because they have other programming obligations.

The proposed change is to have the COW meetings on Thursdays at 1pm.

Mr. Swabey, the City Manager has made the following recommendations, that COW meetings:

  •  be held in Board Room in the City Hall
  •  NOT be televised or recorded
  •  become “committee” meetings and no longer like “council” meetings

If this motion passes on Monday, January 19, 2015  it will be terrible for transparency and democracy in Nanaimo civic politics.

The committee of the whole meetings are very important for all Nanaimo residents to watch. They cover all new “hot” items.  This is where people can reach out to the community and city hall when they are having problems. Everything must first go through the COW meetings. Some topics never make it to council meetings.

To rely on the minutes of the meetings is not good because these are not recorded verbatim, have little detail and are not always available.

If the COW meetings are moved to Thursdays at 1pm then who will be able to attend?

Why would the City Manager want to shut out the public? What is the City trying to hide?

These changes could come into effect early/mid March. It all depends on how Council votes on Monday.

Take Action now! Send an email to Mayor and council mayor&council@nanaimo.ca and ask that they keep all meetings recorded and televised as they are now.

Video thumbnail for kendall nanaimo
Chek News coverage of Nanaimo City manager recommendation: no tv or recording of council meetings