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HomeBusinessFew answers from top Metro Vancouver bureaucrat after one man dead, another missing in Capilano River dam release disaster

Few answers from top Metro Vancouver bureaucrat after one man dead, another missing in Capilano River dam release disaster

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Bob Mackin

An internal probe is underway to find out what went wrong at the Cleveland Dam on Oct. 1, but Metro Vancouver’s top official did not explain why an independent investigator is not involved.

The drum gate on the 91-metre dam unexpectedly opened and a torrent of water gushed down the “ski jump” spillway on Oct. 1. One man is dead and another missing and presumed drowned in the Capilano River, which suddenly rose four metres around 2 p.m.

Diagram showing the Cleveland Dam drum gate allowing water on the spillway.
(Metro Vancouver)

The North Vancouver RCMP is assisting the B.C. Coroners Service, but the Mounties have not opened a criminal file, said Sgt. Peter DeVries.

“If information comes to light that leads us to a reasonable suspicion that there may have been a crime that may have been committed, then we will assert our jurisdiction as the investigating body,” DeVries said.

Regional district commissioner Jerry Dobrovolny pledged to release information incrementally and eventually publish a final report. When he spoke to reporters more than 24 hours after the incident, Dobrovolny was evasive when repeatedly asked about the precise nature of work being performed at the time of the disaster.

“The Metro staff were doing work on the gate and the controls for the gate, I don’t have the specific details, but the work was being done on the equipment and the gate,” Dobrovolny said.

The drum gate is raised and lowered remotely from a control room at the Seymour Dam, elsewhere in North Vancouver. Were workers were testing new software?

“I don’t have the details at this point of what exactly the work they were doing,” Dobrovolny said. “I will release that, we’re collecting that information now.”

He also said he did not know how long the gate was open or how much water escaped. “I don’t know exactly what the work was and whether it was completed or not. That will be part of the investigation.”

The Capilano River is a popular autumn destination for anglers and kayakers. Apart from warning signs on the shore, there is no public address warning system for when the dam releases water.

Worker reviewing the control panel for the Cleveland Dam (Metro Vancouver)

The 21-metre long, seven-metre high drum gate is a triangular, hollow steel structure with a hinge in one corner. It normally floats on a pool of water at the top of the spillway, which allows the height to be controlled by varying the amount of water.

“The drum gate is operated remotely from our control room; we have instrumentation at the dam that allows us to communicate with this equipment so we are always aware of where the drum gate is and can make operational changes as needed,” according to notes from an April 2016 meeting about the dam hosted by District of North Vancouver.

The meeting heard the drum gate could last another 40 to 50 years. Work to apply an epoxy coating to the drum gate was completed three years ago this month at the 1955-built dam that holds part of the region’s drinking water.

The dam is due for a safety review in 2023. The Metro Vancouver 2020 capital budget included $800,000 for power resiliency improvements, $100,000 for elevator decommissioning and ladder replacement and $50,000 for minor spillway concrete repairs to the outside face of one wall. Another $1 million is budgeted for 2021-2022 to replace the drum gate seal.

The Seymour Dam control room was built for the $820 million Seymour-Capilano filtration project. A division of SNC-Lavalin was the project consultant.

Department of Fisheries and Oceans said the rapid increase and reduction in river flows stranded some adult salmon. DFO was unable to say how many of the salmon were recovered by staff at the Capilano Fish Hatchery. 

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