Colliery Dams: one of 37 extreme rated dams in BC

On Monday, May 13, 2013 the Nanaimo City Council decided in a 5 to 4 vote to have the Colliery Dams removed in July. The cost of removing the Colliery Dams is between $5 to $7 million.

The City of Nanaimo will finance this project through short term borrowing over the next 5 years. The taxpayers of Nanaimo are facing growing debt. Currently, the debt stands at approximately $400 million and will rise annually.

The City states that the BC Dam Safety Branch has informed them that taking no action is not an option because if there is an earthquake the Colliery Dams might collapse.

In 2011, the Dam Safety Branch published “Inspection and Maintenance of Dams” (Dam Safety Guidelines). Throughout this entire document there is no reference to seismic regulations for dams.

As of 2012, there are 5 levels of consequence classification for dams, the last three are High, Very High and Extreme. In British Columbia, there are currently 250 High, 53 Very High and 37 Extreme rated dams.

The only requirement for an extreme rated dam is for a regular dam safety review. There is no law or regulation that states an extreme dam must be removed according to the public documents provided by the provincial dam safety branch. Is Nanaimo the only community being forced to remove its dams?

In the presentation to council on May 6, 2013 by KCB Engineering, it was admitted that the seismic standards used for the Colliery Dams tabletop exercise were exceptionally high; far beyond any other public building or infrastructure in the province. Also mentioned was that the fill used to build the original dams is “the cleanest we’ve ever seen.”

Who will benefit from the removal of these dams? How much is high-grade clean fill worth? For example, a residential development for 30 homes in Ontario spent $400,000 to acquire clean fill.

There are dams further up the Chase River – are these going to be removed and a massive new dam created?

The Colliery Dams were once used to wash coal a hundred years ago. It is one of the last heritage monuments to Nanaimo’s history. The removal of the Dickinson Barn in Harewood, Foundry building, and heritage block on Commercial Street replaced by the conference centre are sad reminders that history is being lost.

Will the Colliery Dams Park become a victim of another land swap?