Gary Murton

Dam clock ticks down in Alberni

Time is running out to perform costly repairs to the McLean Mill National Historic site dam that suffered extensive water damage last year.

Time is running out to perform costly repairs to the McLean Mill National Historic site dam that suffered extensive water damage last year.

Port Alberni city council has been working on the issue, but has not made a final decision on how to fix the dam and who will be involved in the $600,000 project.

Now, a quick-fix will likely be necessary to preserve the site until the full repair can be done next year.

Right now the dam and road are stable, but city engineer Guy Cicon said something must be done before winter. “The provincial dam inspector requires us to stabilize the situation. The main issue is dam safety,” he said. “But I’m not expecting us to complete the full project this year. We’re going to stabilize the existing dam and work on detailed design through the winter.”

Cicon could not provide a cost estimate of the temporary fix.

Port Alberni city Coun. Jack McLeman has touted the Western Vancouver Island Industrial Heritage Society (IHS) as being able to play a key role in the repairs.

McLeman is concerned because the city originally budgeted $285,000 to fix the dam. “I believe it could be done at a lot lower cost,” he said.

A recent meeting regarding the proposed repairs involved a number of stakeholders, but no decision was made.

As for the IHS, the society is debating whether or not they will take part in the final repair project, and which of the two proposed fixes they support.

The group was expected to release a public statement Aug. 22, following a meeting of their directors.

IHS president Gary Murton stressed the city will make the final decision on which option is best. His group can only express an opinion. “We want to help but whether or not we can is the question,” Murton pointed out. “We are mainly retired men. We’re all getting older.”

He added a number of members do have experience with work and machines that could mitigate the cost of the repair.

If the IHS decides to participate, the offer is good regardless of which option the city chooses, Murton said. “For us, this is about maintaining historical accuracy and access,” he added.

City council is looking at two options for the permanent repair of the dam:  to rebuild the existing dam and aging wooden fish ladder at an estimated cost of up to $605,000 or; to construct a diversion channel around the mill pond and dam with an estimated $552,000 budget.

Cicon is recommending council choose option two.

“It’s the best option for fish passage,” he said, adding it will also lower operating costs because the pond will not have to be dredged if a diversion is in place.