Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Have Engineers Provide Pro Bono Study

How many dollars have these firms been paid?
What is the true value of the work they did?

I do not profess to have read through the mountain of P Eng endorsed documents produced regards the Colliery Dams on the taxpayers dime; but do question the value they have provided.

I realize that the information and value of the studies done by these firms is to a great extent dictated by the scope of work and directions coming from city staff. In other words, if you limit the scope of work, you can pretty much determine the outcome before you get started. I now realize that two different engineering firms can produce completely opposing conclusions to the same issue based on the scope of the work being done.

The use of assumptions and speculation and weasel-clauses can make reports of no real value. An example of such a statement I read in an engineers report regarding the old City Annex we were told presented such a seismic hazard we had to build that shiny new office, I believe the wording was to the effect " in a seismic event the building could fail". Really??? In an unspecified seismic event, can you name any building that could not fail??

The use of wording in the most recent round of 'work' done by the city-led technical committee includes such precise wording as ' a signifcant chance'. Really??


Since the 'work' of the city-led technical committee was absent council or public or media oversight (can you say behind closed doors) it is difficult to divine why we are where we are after spending at least 2.5 million taxpayer dollars. Why the public and media was excluded, raises eyebrows and why this important committee was absent any council members further fuels the fires of suspicion of the entire process. Can you think of any other city committees that don't allow public oversight or councillor involvement?

Back when City Manager Al Kenning was leading the charge to rip out the dams we paid over a million to credible engineering firms who assured us the dams could fail in a seismic event with the loss of as many as 150 lives. Remember that?? Complete with the authority of a P. Eng stamp affixed.

After spending another million or so, another engineering company produced a piece of work titled 'FACTUAL GEOTECHNICAL REPORT'. I presume this report (haven't read it all) was how we concluded the first engineers assertions were based on a whole lot of what could be called incomplete work.


Given the bags of taxpayer's cash these engineering firms have put into their bank accounts, the least they can do is a pro bono Factual Study of the effects of overtopping on the Colliery Dam.

Just like the 'Seismic Failure' report which was poorly done and based on mountains of assumption and speculation we have no assurance this second piece of work is any more valid nor any more factual.

We need to support our city council with their request to DSB to stay their current order until we have a factual report that indicates:

1. Is the true flood risk acceptable to Nanaimo given at least an $8 million 'fix'. It is now proven loss of life is no longer the risk.
2. Would the fill on the downstream side of the dam likely scour away in such an event?
3. Would the concrete core dam actually fail absent of the fill on the downstream side, or is it constructed as a stand alone structure.
4. How is the concrete core wall constructed ..... we still don't know, so how can we assume it would fail?

Before Nanaimo taxpayers get bullied by different levels of bureaucrats we need to insist that the engineers do a proper, factual study, and that they do it pro bono given the quality of some of their previous efforts we have already paid for.



  1. Following are some of the Overtopping options considered by Golder: (see their Remediation Options Report of Aug. 29, 2014)

    Roller Compacted Concrete (RCC) and Soil Cement (SC)
    Conventional/Mass Concrete Slabs (CRCS)
    Precast Concrete Blocks
    Vegetative cover, reinforced and artificial turf
    Rockfill and reinforced rockfill
    Geomembranes and Geocells and fabric formed concrete
    Open stone asphalt
    Soil Stabilization

    Below is a brief explanation as to why the options were then reduced to RCC, CRCS and reinforced rockfill.

    Selection of Overtopping Option:
    Golder considered FEMA and ICOLD guidelines when selecting an overtopping option to carry forward to the shortlisted options. It is important to note the category the Lower Dam falls into (i.e. Large or Small dam) when considering an appropriate overtopping protection system.
    Large dams are defined by ICOLD as any dam with “Maximum height (H), measured from deepest foundation level to highest structure crest level, more than 15 m. “
    FEMA (2014) referenced this definition and states that “If large dams are defined as those having a height of greater than 50 feet, only RCC, CRCS, and reinforced rockfill have been considered or used for overtopping protection of large embankment dams. Most laboratory testing of overtopping protection systems has been limited to a drop height of 50 feet or less.” The Lower Dam is 23.5 m high (as measured from crest to downstream toe) and hence by definition, falls into the Large Dam category.

    So if I read this correctly the Precast Concrete Block method of providing overtopping erosion protection has been considered and discarded by Golder on the grounds that this system has not been considered or used for overtopping protection of large embankment dams.

    Why would the DSS accept such a system or similar system which has not been tested and as such does not meet (in my opinion) the FEMA guidelines? Are the rules and standards going to be bent/relaxed because of politics or as part of an exoneration compromise?

    Why do we not appeal on the grounds (among several other things) of needing more time to do further engineering investigation and analyses and give the examples of approx 10 times when Golder have stated in their reports that “due to time and budget constraints......” they did not do this or that?

    Are we getting deeper and deeper into the dam twilight zone?

  2. Thanks, Anonymous, for your insight. I can't wait for the responses from the CDPS. They think their opinions are equal to or better than a professional engineer. I wonder if the fishing and swimming are worth all the expenses that would be incurred over the lifetime of the dams, if they are retained. The DSB would likely want independent reports every few years. Even with ideal performance, the dams would probably be given an 80-year licence extension.

  3. What's needed more than anything else at this time is an expert climatologist/weather specialist to predict the likelihood of the dams ever overflowing given global warming and its effects on the climate and weather.

    It would be ridiculous to spend millions to protect the dams from an event that has almost no likelihood of occuring -- which seems to be the case, subject to expert evaluation. The city claimed at one point that there was an over-toppijng event sometime in the last 50 years. That's the sort of malarkey city staff will come up with. There's no evidence whatsoever to support that opinion. City staff ought to be called to account for that gaff and several others. Heads would have been rolling long ago in some jurisdictions over mistakes and or fabrications of that kind.

    Why climatology/weather analysis expertise was not brought to bear in the first place also speaks directly to either the intentions or competence of city staff -- or perhaps both.

    As for that concrete wall. We now know, although city staff suggested otherwise two years ago, that it is made of reinforced concrete -- with very thick reinforcing bars -- and constructed on bedrock.

    As for the Dams Safety Branch, it's more than obvious that this outfit has been asleep at the switch (witness the earth dam failure in the Okanagan) and is now busy trying to demonstrate that it's prepared to be tough with other people's money. Its competence is also certainly open to question. It would be useful to see information about its methods of operation, the qualifications of its personnel, etc.

    I would also like to know if the DSS was involved in approving the tailings pond dam that breached in the interior last year. It's now clear from the reports on that eco-disaster that the dam should never have been constructed on that particular site.


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