The Horror! The Horror!
Ron Bolin: May 24, 2013
The following email from Mr. Stead went to Council and to many others yesterday. It raises questions which all of us sometimes ask about living in Nanaimo, but until the Colliery Dams question came along tended to ignore. (Movie goers or readers may recognize the words in the heading to this piece as the dying words of Kurtz (Marlon Brando) in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.)
The broader questions raised by Mr. Stead’s plaint concerning the responsibility of government in general and Council in particular to protect citizens, not only from each other, but from the very environment, have been made manifest in the current debate. Council, apparently acting solely on the demand for a 1:10,000 event standard of fallibility for the Colliery Dams by the province’s Dam Safety Branch, perfidiously fails to examine all the other damages that could arise from 1:10,000 events. Such events seem to be defined by the number of the deaths which could arise from a related structural failure and is marked by an estimated number of deaths of over 100 persons.
Others, as well as Mr. Stead, have already questioned the standard as it might apply to other dams in Nanaimo, in particular the Westwood Lake Dam. ( See Lawrence Rieper: “Nanaimo Dams and Dangers – A new Look” on this blog. A short version or the piece is appended as a comment to that post.) If, however, the question really is about the number of deaths which might occur during an extreme event in a structure which has been permitted by the City, why stop at dams?
The collapse of a single building in Bangladesh recently led to more than 1,100 deaths, a toll much greater than that needed to define a 1:10,000 event risk. How many buildings has the City permitted that may, in a catastrophic event, lead to more than 100 deaths? I believe we could all name many among our schools, public buildings, and high rise structures which have been approved by the City and either directly or indirectly by the Province which could result in many more than 100 fatal casualties in an extreme event. Unless I misheard, it was even admitted at a recent Council meeting that our new $16 million dollar City Hall Annex would not survive a 1:10,000 event. If that standard is not only to be imposed, but imposed without even taking the time to undertake a full design and rebuild strategy for our dams, what should be happening with our other structures which are subject to similar or even greater danger to human life?
All life is risky. We all know how it ends, at least for us as individuals. In the meantime what we would like to do –what we can afford to do- is mitigate these risks without spending all our resources on insurance. No one wishes to ignore the risks associated with the Colliery Dams. But, like all elements in life, there are other factors at play in the matter, such as the trade-off between rushing to action, especially in the face of risks which might be even greater, and risks with regard to the ongoing health and safety of the general population which finds recreation and solace in the park. The real risk in this affair is that people get the idea that the insurance cost of acting precipitously is not only too high and too uncertain, but that the entire matter is being manipulated for hidden purposes.
All in all, the proposal to take the time to do a proper design/build contract can alleviate the worst aspects of the situation for both the Dams and the fabric of our community. If need be, some water from one or both of the dams can be removed to bring the risk category down to where it may be commensurate with our other dams –and other high risk structures. Let’s not allow this matter to degenerate into another act which leaves the citizens of Nanaimo wondering about the “real” motives behind major City shaping actions and the secret in-camera meetings which lie behind them.