The log pond at McLean Mill National Historic Site is low on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018 after a drawdown following the removal of a sluice near an old dam site. Work was halted when the colour of the water turned rusty brown. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Future of Port Alberni’s historic McLean Mill in question

$200,000 allocated to dam repairs, water quality testing at national historic site

How much should Port Alberni be spending to keep a national landmark alive?

Some members of Port Alberni’s city council are questioning the future of McLean Mill National Historic Site after $200,000 was allocated from the city’s contingency budget to repair the site’s log pond.

In 2014, the City of Port Alberni undertook some work to repair the dam at the McLean Mill Log Pond, diverting the stream away from the pond. More remedial work was still left to be done. This September, volunteers from the Alberni Valley Enhancement Society undertook some of this work and, while dewatering the pond, a water quality issue arose.

READ: Final report on McLean Mill log pond water spill released

READ: City of Port Alberni takes over McLean Mill pond project

“The city took over the project and has been managing the project since,” explained city CAO Tim Pley during a council meeting on Monday, Dec. 10. Water has now been restored to the dam and is flowing again. The city has also undertaken water and soil samples, and found that there is further testing to be done.

$50,000 has been allocated to this “unanticipated project” to date, Pley explained.

“And there [are] going to be further costs,” he added.

In this year’s financial plan, the city included a ‘contingency’ budget for situations that are unforeseeable. The full amount of this contingency budget, $200,000, has not been used this year. Pley has recommended the city allocate the full $200,000 towards the McLean Mill Log Pond in an operating reserve that will carry forward to 2019. The money will go towards dam repairs, water and soil quality testing and possible remediation work, if it is required.

If the city chooses not to pay the bills, they will still incur the costs, Pley warned. “If we don’t take action, we’re going to be told to do it,” he explained. “We either repair the dam or remove the dam, or something to mitigate the risk that’s there.”

The city has not made any applications for funding at this point. If remedial work needs to be done, the city will look into an application, said Pley.

Councillor Cindy Solda asked if there is a health risk to the general public. The health risk is not known yet, said Pley, but the water and soil quality are “valid concerns” for neighbours who live downstream.

“When we were first made aware of this, we immediately had staff knocking on doors,” he explained. “We owe it to the neighbours to see this through to the end to make sure there’s not a health risk.”

Further sampling will determine if there is a risk to livestock or the environment.

“If there [are] contaminants in the water that are impacting the environment or livestock or people downsteam, then we’re likely going to have to take some steps to mitigate that,” Pley said.

This is separate from the issue of the dam, which still must be repaired.

Mayor Sharie Minions said that, although necessary, the use of the city’s contingency funds is “frustrating.”

“I think that every time something comes up with McLean Mill…no matter what good people get involved in this project, there’s always more money needed,” she said. “This council is going to have to have a conversation at some point if this is the best use of our money that we’re spending every year.”

This will be a “difficult conversation,” she added.

“But we just can’t keep spending money forever.”

elena.rardon@albernivalleynews.com

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