It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future

Ron Bolin: April 15, 2015

Nanaimo, along with the Provincial Dam Safety Branch, finds itself bogged down in such a difficulty for the plain fact of the matter is that neither side in this issue is able to demonstrate that they know what the future will bring by way of tremors or rains, let alone when they may happen. Nothing that we have learned since the inception of this sorry affair, or anything that we may learn from future studies will change this situation. Frankly, having learned that there will be no dramatic collapse of the Colliery Park Dams in the event of an earthquake that would lead to 150 deaths and put vast parts of Harewood meters deep under water, I find it very hard to imagine that an overtopping of the dams, a much more prolonged process, would lead to either the same or worse consequences.

Be that as it may, as a famous comedienne was want to say, “It could happen!” Whether it is likely to happen, however, is the question facing us? And to say either as the Dam Safety Branch and our senior City Staff seem to say that we must spend extraordinary amounts of money and destroy serious social and cultural and environmental values in our Park, or, on the other hand, to take the stance that because no overtopping of the dams appears to have happened in the past, that it will not happen in the future, are both unsupportable. So what do we do in such a circumstance?

Councillor Kipp’s excellent presentation to Council on April 13, 2015 (see URL below) lays out the problem of risk.  Risk is at the crux of the current conundrum. In a matter as uncertain as that of future climate, weather, and the perils of living on a planet the surface of which is prone to shift from time to time, how can we find a balance between risks and risk mitigation, i.e. somewhere between all-in attention to this one risk and to all the other risks to which humans are prone. So the answer must lie somewhere between doing nothing and doing everything… and its cost should not greatly exceed the estimated benefits in lives or property damage resulting from an opined flood event.  In this case, following an examination of the physical circumstances of the dams, the loss of life has been reduced from about 150 to less than one.  And property damage has been estimated at about $2 million dollars.  Given these parameters which could, after all, be wrong, how much should be spent to try to mitigate these effects?  The Dam Safety Branch, through the Provincial Comptroller of Water Rights, apparently sets this cost at between $7+ million and $8+million depending on the choice selected from the two remediation methods offered.

In his presentation, Councillor Kipp, brought back a  proposal from  GSI  (GeoStabilization International) which estimated a cost of $3 million dollars for providing an overtopping methodology for both the middle and the lower dams which would, moreover, enhance rather than damage the ambience of the Park.  For whatever reason, it appears that this proposal, was parked in limbo rather than pursued when it was put forward.  There is the admitted problem that the proposed method has apparently not previously been approved in Canada for dam overtopping, but then this is the case with all new technologies.  While it may require additional expert examination, it is hard to comprehend, given its financial as well as its aesthetic superiority that such an approach was abandoned by the City, only to be brought back by Councillors when push has really come to shove, or why City Staff did not feel it sufficient to not only present Council with doubts from the Dam Safety Branch, but rather to actively represent them.

It is most urgently to be hoped that the GSI proposal will be now, as it should have been when proposed, examined for how its status as a “new to Canada” solution can be properly evaluated before we turn to alternatives which are estimated to cost between $4.2 and $5.1 more than the GSI proposal and have a far more severe impact on the ambience of the Park.  A return of this magnitude on the cost of some additional study is a proposition which should be of value to both the City of Nanaimo and the Dam Safety Branch.  (Let’s not forget, for example, that the City spent about $30,000 in failing to get an injunction to stop Nanaimo citizens from taking civic action at the dams before any such actions had taken place.)

To read Councillor Kipp’s presentation click on the following URL.:

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