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?