What we have here is (deliberate?) failure to communicate

Ron Bolin: May 14, 2013

At 3:44 yesterday afternoon the Provincial Dam Safety Board sent a letter to the City which demanded some action this year to mitigate the possibility of any imminent catastrophic failure of the middle and lower Colliery Dams.  Why this letter should be sent less than four hours before a Council meeting at which the issue of the dams was to be discussed remains an intriguing mystery.  The letter itself neither recommended methods of mitigation which might be implemented this year, nor did it indicate that removal of the dams in 2013 was the only acceptable mitigation.  The immense gap left between these two positions apparently went unnoticed by our Council, with the possible exception of Councillor Johnston who put forward the notion of reducing the water level behind the dams which would significantly mitigate the current risk.  For whatever reason, this suggestion was allowed to get lost in the rush to see the dams destroyed as quickly as possible without a clear path to reconstruction.

The failure to communicate between the three major interested parties, i.e. the public, the City and the Dam Safety Branch,  in any full and open manner since this issue was made public has not failed to draw attention to the increasing suspicion that all is not as it has been presented.  Staff appears to have attempted to keep the other two parties divided by not providing a public forum where all could play on the same field at the same time.  Instead they have positioned themselves as a mouthpiece for the Dam Safety Branch, interpreting DSBs position while overlooking the apparent lacunae in the logic of that position as they represented it.  This has been further highlighted by repeatedly stated City projections for reconstruction costs which now turn out to be two to three times higher than those provided not only by citizen experts, but finally by the very  experts hired by the City to study the alternatives for the dams.  It has been difficult to sustain the pretense that there is nothing more at issue here than safety.  Life is inherently dangerous and we all know how it ends.  We just don’t know how or where. What we really need to know is that we are not being put at unreasonable risks for the gain of others.  This case needs to be made to the satisfaction of all.

While the recommendation for action on the dams which was passed by Council last night emphasized the destruction of the dams, it did not totally abandon their reconstruction: it merely left the question in limbo by not providing a timetable.  I believe that it should be possible to lean sufficiently on Council to ensure a design/build contract such that the package it tied together in the manner proposed by Lorne Gale and the public should make itself vocal on this matter.

At the same time it is important that there be a full discussion of scheduling with the Dam Safety Branch which should be encouraged to appear in public on the matter rather than leaving City Staff to interpret their intentions and demands.  The last minute letter which some Councillors used to rush to judgement last night did not demand the immediate demolition of the dams but did demand some practical movement on the issue this year.  I would opine that lowering the water levels would suffice.  We have wasted nearly half a year on this matter which is still, in all its ramifications, not clear due to what I would consider serious breaches in the chain of understanding.  For reasons of both safety and public recreation in all its manifestations, we need to be clear about our options and their consequences.  We should not let a bad start lead to a bad end.  What is really behind this botch?