Category Archives: Outdoors

Outdoors on Vancouver Island

Railroaded Removal of Middle and Lower Colliery Dams

In the rush to remove the Middle and Lower Colliery Dams in Nanaimo, essential issues have been overlooked or ignored. This blog post will focus on three points:

1) Reports from the BC government’s Rapid Dam Assessment
2) Cost estimates
3) Development of the Harwood Flood Plains

Dam Safety is a provincial responsibility. The Middle and Lower Colliery Dams on Chase River are regularly audited by the Ministry of Environment. Staff from the Ministry of Environment conducted a review of the Provincial Dam Safety Program and initiated a Rapid Dam Assessment (RDA) for dams in the province in 2010.

In the Summary of Project Review and Construction for Dams in BC compiled in May 2011 by the Ministry of Environment, there was no mention in the report that the Colliery Dams were in poor condition or required removal or rehabilitation.

Original design and construction documentation is lacking for the Middle and Lower Colliery Dams; however, up-to-date reservoir bathymetry and site survey drawings are available. These dams were constructed around 1910.

The Ministry’s next review of the dams was to be in 2014 with no recommendation for removal.

In July 2012 a consultant prepared a report “Chase River Dam Breach Flood Inundation Study” and its conclusions and recommendations stated that there was an “unacceptable deficiency” in both the Middle and Lower Colliery Dams and the probability of an “extreme failure” would be very high.

September 20-21, 2012: a “Table Top” exercise was conducted with City of Nanaimo, Ministry officials, and various personnel and emergency management staff.  Participants discussed the actions they would take during an emergency situation if a breach of the dams were to occur.

Where are the results of this Table Top exercise and what input data was used?

In a letter dated October 17, 2012 to the City of Nanaimo, the Water Management Branch, Dam Safety (Ministry of Forests, Lands & Natural Resource Operations) acknowledged receipt of the private report paid for by the City of Nanaimo. The Ministry asked whether the City of Nanaimo is planning to upgrade, replace or remove the Middle and Lower Colliery Dams by November 30, 2012.

October 22, 2012: Council holds in-camera meeting to advise staff to proceed with removal of the Middle and Lower Colliery Dams

October 23, 2012: City sends results of October 22nd meeting to Ministry of Forests, Lands & Natural Resource Operations

October 29, 2012: Council passes resolution to remove dams at in-camera meeting. (Council can make motions, however, they cannot pass resolutions at in-camera meetings according to the Community Charter). This information was made public at a press conference the same day.

November 26, 2012: Committee of the Whole Meeting, City Manager states at 1:41:50 “we regularly give out in-camera information, that’s how council does business.”

Cost Estimates
November 26, 2012: Committee of the Whole Meeting (COW), Manager Bill Sims at 1:46:20 “the budget for removal of the dams is $7 million. We don’t know what the costs are, it’s just preliminary thoughts. We figure it would be in the low “tens of millions.”

Why has this project been rushed forward without requests for proposals (RFP) or calls for tenders?

Construction on Harewood Flood Plains
Why did the city approve new construction in the Harewood Flood Plains after the 2010 seismic report was received? This question was put to staff and council at the COW meeting and no answer was given.

**November 26, 2012 was the last Committee of the Whole meeting to be recorded on video. The new meeting room in the $16 million City Hall Annex Building does not currently have audio or video equipment installed.

Why doesn’t Nanaimo save Linley Valley West?

Here is a personal account of Linley Valley West by Spencer Hiemstra:

When I’m older I will look back on my life and think about memories of times spent with family and friends. One of my favourite memories was going for walks on Sunday afternoons. My dad would love going for walks, even when it was snowing. We would spend the week busy with school and my parents working and I was busy with sports. It was nice to have a chance to get out of the busy city for a couple of hours.

Often we would go walk through West Linley Valley and enjoy the wildlife there. It was instantly like being out in the wild, and really, it was. The Linley Valley is a large Douglas fir marshland. It is full off old trees, mossy bluffs, birds, plants and lots of wildlife. It is an urban oasis that is available for everyone. It is used for running, dog-walking, cycling, walking, bird watching, and relaxing. It’s a place you can get away from everything.

But the West Linley Valley isn’t protected. Parts of it are being developed already now. The West Linley Valley is already almost unrecognizable from those Sunday walks my family went on. The area would be a good carbon offset for the city, and it could remain to be a large green space for Nanaimo if the city would protect it, but the area is quickly becoming developed. It makes me wonder where I will go for walks with my children.

For more information also visit Save Linley Valley West Facebook page.

Carolling in Nanaimo’s Pioneer Forest

Do you enjoy parks? Do you like to sing? Would you like to meet some Nanaimo neighbours?

You are invited to come and celebrate the holiday season with the Friends of Pioneer Forest on Wednesday, December 12th from 6:30pm to 7:30pm for carolling.

Everyone will meet up at the park entrance at the corner of Groveland and Dickinson Road and then after come and warm up with a hot chocolate in the nearby Rugby Clubhouse.  Bring along a non-perishable food item for the food bank.

*** If the weather is not ideal then everyone will meet at the Hornets Rugby Clubhouse at Dover and Dickenson Road and people can warm up with carolling and hot chocolate.


Nanaimo Pioneer Forest – elementary school debacle

Here is an overview of the correspondence in date order made available to the public on the Save Pioneer Forest website regarding the quest to keep Pioneer Forest as a park as it was intended.

In 1983, Premier Bill Bennett signed an Order in Council which created Pioneer Forest Park. In 1996, the City of Nanaimo decided to sell the park land to School District 68 for the purpose of building an elementary school.

Questions to consider:
1) Why the urgency to develop this particular piece of property
2) How was the assessment value determined and size of lot
3) Why did the north Nanaimo student enrollment numbers fluctuate

Overview of Pioneer Park Elementary Project
1993: Capital Project Request Site acquisition $816,318
1993: Capital Project Certificate Approval/ Costs: $5,174,478 / expiry July 31, 1995
1998: Borrowed $816,318 from Hongkong Bank of Canada (paid City?)
2000: Capital Project Certificate Approval/ Costs: $4,299,116 expiry March 31, 2002
2000: $111,292 addition status: approved
2000: $3,371,506 status: not approved
2001: Funding for Pioneer Park Elementary approved in capital plan $3,483,000
2001: Pioneer Park Elementary project cancelled by School District 68

Further Details from Documents:

1993 Major Capital Project Proposal (Appendix E)
Project History: Planning may commence as soon as the project [Pioneer Elem. School] is approved and is expected to be completed in the winter of 2000.
Significant Issues: Removal of existing timber on the Pioneer Park site may become a local community issue.

June 22, 1995 Letter from Ministry of Education:
“As reviewed at our meeting in Nanaimo on June 7, 1995, the expenditure [for site acquisition] was not approved at the time, as the Ministry has some concerns with the current proposal at Pioneer Park. At our meeting, it was agreed that the following actions will be taken in order to resolve some of the outstanding issues regarding this site.
1. Enrolment projections for North Nanaimo.
An analysis of the District’s elementary enrolment forecasts for 1999 (published in July 1994) indicates that they do not support the need for a new school in north Nanaimo in the next five years. The original approval of the project in 1993 may have been based on higher enrolment projections than are currently forecast.
2. Acquisition of Former Crown Land at Fair Market Value
The proposed school site was originally acquired by the City of Nanaimo as a Crown Grant for park use… It will be difficult to justify payment of market value for land that was owned by the Crown and has not been developed… the Board should then prepare a cost-benefit analysis of all available sites…
In the process of identifying alternate school sites, sizes closer to five acres would be supportable… It should be noted that the Pioneer Park site is 8.35 acres, which is large for a 50 (kindergarten) and 200 elementary capacity elementary school site.
3. Other Pioneer Park Issues
…the City wishes to realize revenue from the sale of timber on the site…As specified on the Ministry’s Site Report Checklist…the School Board should be negotiating free and clear ownership of the property, which should include any timber rights.
…expect some community reaction to the logging of the site to accommodate any proposed development. This reinforces the necessity to give full consideration to any alternative sites to justify the development of a school on this park land.”

July 10, 1997: from notes …”Discussed subdivision and disposal of surplus land…City wants to buy Neck Point. Moe Sihota says $800,000 purchase price for Site A to help with Purchase price of Site B.  $800,000 is gift for replacement property.”

December 30, 1999 – School Capacity and Enrollment Worksheet
McGirr Elementary: Current enrollment: 64 Kindergarten/ 466 Elementary/ Portables: 8

February 2, 2000 – School Capacity and Enrollment Worksheet
McGirr Elementary: Current enrollment: 38 Kindergarten/ 479 Elementary/ Portables: 5

April 14, 2000 letter from Ministry of Finance to SD 68:
“Funds have been announced in the 2000/2001 capital plan for the new Pioneer Park Elementary School in Nanaimo. Based on the School Board’s capital submission, the nominal capacity of the school approved by the government will be 225 elementary and 40 kindergarten students.”

June 8, 2000 letter from Ministry of Finance to SD 68
Certificate of Approval: Addition, Pioneer Park Elementary $111,292

August 28, 2001 Ministry of Finance email:
“Several projects in SD 68 that the SD is showing as cancelled. They are:… Nanaimo, Pioneer Park Elementary …have advised the [School District] that approval to cancel projects must be in conjunction with [Ministry of Education]…”

Today 2012:  Can you help Friends of Pioneer Forest find a way to save this much-needed nature retreat for future generations? A legal fund has been set up to save Pioneer Park Forest.

King Tides: a preview of rising sea levels

The arrival of November on the coast brings with it King Tides.

King Tides occur from November through February on the B.C. coast and are the most extreme high tides during the year. These tides often coincide with storm surges, adding to the height of the water.

King Tides give us a sneak preview of what higher sea levels could look like.

As global temperatures rise, the oceans are expected to warm and expand. Ice caps and glaciers will melt, and more precipitation will fall as rain instead of snow. The Washington Department of Ecology reports that sea level will rise and could affect the west coast in the following ways:

intensifying flooding
shifting coastal beaches inland
increasing coastal bluff erosion
endangering homes and infrastructure
threatening coastal freshwater springs

You can submit your King Tide photos to the Live Smart King Tide Photo Initiative (British Columbia) on Flickr and follow #KingTidesBC on twitter.

King Tides bring Tsunami Debris

Sadly here in BC it appears plans are lacking to tackle the avalanche of debris on the way from Japan. If you go the BC Ministry of Environment site you will find that there is a Tsunami Debris Committee but that website has been forwarded to another Ministry of Environment page. The information there is:

 “Please report all general tsunami debris sightings to the U.S.  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) email address designated  for this purpose:”

The Japanese government estimated 1.5 million tonnes of tsunami debris was left floating in the Pacific Ocean. Ghost vessels washing ashore are being reported to and managed by Transport Canada’s Receiver of Wrecks.

Important question: who will monitor all this debris and keep mariners safe when they close the Marine Communication Transportation Services (MCTS) centres along the BC coast?

Lastly, watch this interesting short video of Dr. John Church as he explains: What is sea level rise? Is sea level rise uniform?


Campaign for National Marine Conservation Area to include Nanaimo Estuary and Gabriola

Mid Island Sustainability & Stewardship Initiative (MISSI) is leading a campaign to include the Nanaimo estuary and Gabriola Island coastal waters in the Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area (SSG-NMCA).

Why is the Nanaimo Estuary so important?

The Nanaimo River Estuary is the largest estuary on Vancouver Island and the fifth largest in British Columbia.

Estuarine areas like the Strait of Georgia are among the most productive marine ecosystems in the world due to fresh water and ocean water mixing and upwelling to create a nutrient-rich marine environment.

The Nanaimo Estuary supports five species of pacific salmon, two species of trout, rockfish, dungeness crab, shellfish, juvenile herring, smelts, capelin, flatfish and halibut. It is also among the finest areas globally for scuba diving, whale watching, sea kayaking and coastal cruising.

There is an opportunity to include the area in orange: the Nanaimo estuary and the northern perimeter of Gabriola Island.

Nanaimo Estuary
Proposed extension to include Nanaimo Estuary and the northern half of Gabriola Island

On October 13, 2011, the governments of Canada and British Columbia announced a proposed boundary for the Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area, which you can see below (dark blue area).

Proposed Marine Area
Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area

The area covers about 1,400 square kilometres. The proposed boundary extends from the southern tip of Gabriola Island to Saanich Inlet and Cordova Bay, just north of Victoria.

Nanaimo not included:

On Monday, October 29, 2012 the Nanaimo City Council voted to take no position regarding Mid-Island Sustainability and Stewardship Initiative’s request for the City to support an extension to the proposed Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area.

Give YOUR FEEDBACK on Parks Canada’s proposed National Marine Conservation Area

Feasibility Study for the Proposed Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area Reserve

Contact your representative at the City of Nanaimo or Member of Parliament, to express your thoughts on the proposal for a northern extension to the Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area.

Wine and Cheese: the Mid Island Sustainability & Stewardship Initiative (MISSI) is hosting a Wine & Cheese evening. Come and show your support on November 8, 2012, from 7-10pm, Thistledown Farm, 2689 Cedar Rd (near Haslam Rd).  For more information or to RSVP, please call 250-722-7223.