Councillor pitches IHS to do dam repairs

The McLean Mill dam needs repairing and the Industrial Heritage Society has the expertise to do the job, a city councillor said.

The McLean Mill dam needs repairing and a Port Alberni city councillor believes the Industrial Heritage Society has the expertise to do the job.

Councillors voted to ask heritage society officials to attend the next council meeting to discuss the issue.

The dam is built across Kitsuksis Creek at McLean Mill. It creates a pond for log storage below the mill; the pond is also used as a reservoir for firemen to drawn on in the event of a fire at the mill.

The dam was identified for retrofit in 2009 after safety issues including water overtopping, mill pond sediment, wood rot in the fish ladder and poor equipment condition were identified.

Two options were recommended to deal with the problem: modifying the existing dam or building a new bypass channel.

Option two was recommended by the project consultant and supported by stakeholders. The work could be done in stages, whereas it would all have to be done at once with the first option.

At Monday’s meeting, Cicon provided an update about the project. Safety is the primary issue with moving forward on the project more substantively, he said.

The dam no longer has the capacity to absorb severe flood waters. Serious overtopping has already occurred in 2006 and 2011, and the dam has been categorized as a “significant consequence” class by the dam safety auditor, Cicon said.

The priority now is to stabilize the existing dam before winter and start construction in 2013, he added.

Geotechnical and engineering experts have to be consulted as the project advances, Cicon said.

The cost of the project was initially pegged at $285,000 but when pressed by Mayor John Douglas about what the final cost would be, Cicon estimated $600,000. The increase is primarily due to new regulations and an expanded scope of requirements.

Stakeholders including the IHS, DFO, Alberni Valley Museum, Island Timberlands and Western Forest Products have been apprised of the project as it has progressed.

Balancing stakeholder interests has been cumbersome, city manager Ken Watson said. “The inter-stability issues are more complex than the technical ones,” he said.

Decommissioning the dam would be complicated because it’s needed for a fire reservoir and for mill operations, Watson said.

Coun. Jack McLeman suggested contracting the IHS to do the work on the dam. The IHS “worked on buildings and built a road and a bridge and it didn’t cost us anything,” he said. “We have the expertise there; they know what they’re doing.”

Watson suggested leaving the matter in Cicon’s hands.

Coun. Rob Cole supported letting the IHS do the work. “Six hundred thousand (dollars) on a dam, the public will say ‘drain it,’” he said. “I don’t want to see that happen. Let’s see what the IHS can do.”

Coun. Hira Chopra suggested inviting the IHS to listen to their concerns and councillors agreed.

IHS president Gary Murton wasn’t surprised at the suggestion. “I’ve been hearing bits and pieces about it for the last couple of weeks,” Murton said after the meeting. “We’re not contractors but we have a reputation of getting things done.”

One issue facing the group is it’s made up of mostly retired tradesmen and others passionate about heritage restoration, and that could be an issue.

“Our group is aging and we’re not getting any young people in,” Murton said.

Society members will be huddling to mull the request over before meeting with the city. “I can’t say too much until we’ve met,” Murton added.

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