COLUMN: Rebuild trust, then deal with dams

NANAIMO – Citizens trust city is acting in their best interests regarding Colliery Dam Park.

People are dying in Istanbul.

Why? To save Gezi Park, one of the city’s last green spaces, from development.

They don’t trust their government, and have showed up in the tens of thousands to protest and voice their displeasure.

They’ve been met with riot police, tear gas and rubber bullets. According to one agency, more than 5,000 people have been injured, and remaining protesters have taken to writing their blood type on their arms just in case they’re injured.

Obviously there are deeper issues, but losing Gezi Park has clearly struck a chord with the citizenry.

The potential to lose Colliery Dam Park may, at least so far, have a less dramatic outcome, but the root cause is the same: People don’t trust our local government, and more than 40 citizens stood at a microphone in council chambers last Monday and told them so.

They don’t trust that safety is the key reason to deconstruct the dams. They don’t trust the city is acting in their best interests. They don’t trust that the promise to rebuild them will ever be fulfilled.

They don’t trust that by taking the first step to remove the dams and drain the lakes, that the park won’t be exposed to development. They don’t trust that once the dams are gone, the city won’t push a road through from Wakesiah Avenue to Harewood Mines Road.

As one proponent of Colliery Dam Park asked, “why isn’t the city bending over backward to save the park?”

It’s a good question.

To date, all the city has indicated is that the dams will be removed, the lakes will be drained and the park will be “naturalized.” The motion council voted on included rebuilding the dams, but there is no plan and no budget at the moment to do so. Nobody has even indicated that permits can be secured.

Not exactly concrete reassurance.

So why isn’t the city agreeing to dedicate the land as park? Why is it not agreeing to a covenant to protect it from developers? Why is it not assuring people a road will not be put through?

So far, city officials have given little reason to relieve concerns, igniting the inevitable rumours. One has to look no further than Linley Valley to understand that developers in this city have carte blanche when it comes to razing woods.

It could be argued Nanaimo has more than it’s share of parks. But isn’t that what makes Nanaimo great? Time after time I’ve heard visitors remark how beautiful Nanaimo is because of our parks. Not once have I heard how stunning the urban sprawl is.

Clearly, green space is coveted and far more valuable in its natural state than as a subdivision. It will only become more valuable in the future as other cities develop theirs.

Though hard to argue the approach that citizen safety is paramount, the way it is being wielded is dubious. Looking back in our news archives, an inspection of all municipal dams in 2010 after the Tetstalinden Dam near Oliver failed revealed all local dams were safe and sound. A later inundation study raised the alarm of the risk of dam failure.

Going on that approach, as pointed out by several speakers to council, the entire city is in peril should an earthquake strike, certainly the sections built on empty mine shafts. The only downtown structures we know of that can take a good shake happen to be city hall and the new annex. There’s irony for you.

Citizens of Harewood and other areas have shown that Colliery Dam Park in its current state is the heart and soul of the neighbourhood. They may not on the whole be wealthy, but are rich in pride, sense of community and appreciation for what they have.

Before those dams come down, city officials need to first rebuild the trust that has been eroded and find a way to assure those they represent they will do what they say they will do.

Nanaimo News Bulletin