Friend of Cleveland Dam victims demands more accountability from Metro Vancouver
Water flows out of the Cleveland Dam on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2020 after the gate was lowered during routine maintenance. (Twitter/Christine Tam)
VANCOUVER -- A friend of the father and son killed in a torrent of rushing water when the spillway on the Cleveland Dam was unintentionally cranked all the way open says he is not satisfied with the response from the commissioner of Metro Vancouver.
Ryan Nickerson, 61, and his 27-year-old son Hugh were fishing on the Capilano River when it began rapidly rising without warning.
The pair were swept up in the wall of water.
"Ryan Nickerson was my best friend. And his son Hugh, I've known since he was a little boy,” said family friend Steven Rechtschaffner.
Search and rescue volunteers located Ryan Nickerson’s body but Hugh still hasn’t been found.
Last week Metro Vancouver, the political body that operates the dam, fired three people in connection with the accident.
But for Rechtschaffner, that wasn't enough.
“I’ve seen almost no transparency. To me this is something that needs to be playing out in the public,” he said. “What’s happened? How did it happen? Why did it happen?”
Thorugh a local city council member in West Vancouver, Rechtschaffner reached out to Metro Vancouver Commissioner Jerry Dobrovolny, who he says responded with an email.
“I can only imagine the loss you must be feeling — this has been a devastating situation and my heartfelt condolences go out to you and the Nickerson family,” the email begins.
Rechtschaffner says the email falls short of what he wanted to hear.
Specifically, he wanted to know why there is no audible warning system in place for situations like this, especially considering there have been unannounced openings of the spillway gate in the past.
In a 2001 report, WorkSafe BC ordered Metro Vancouver to install public warning signage and warning alarms.
There are still no audible alarms to alert people on the river if the spillway opens suddenly and unexpectedly.
“I’m not impressed by how they’re behaving here,” Rechtscaffner said. “And I’d like to see them step up and stop speaking like bureaucrats and be more open. Identify the problems within their own systems."
In Dobrovolny’s email to Rechtscaffner, he does indicate a public facing alarm system could be coming.
“As part of our review, we are working with expert advisors, both consultants and peer reviewers, to assess current practices and procedures and provide independent advice to strengthen our operations and maintenance systems, including the implementation of enhanced public warning systems downstream of the dam,” Dobrovolny said in the email.
It may be some time before friends and family of the Nickersons learn exactly what happened at the dam that day.
Metro Van has it’s own investigation underway, along with North Vancouver RCMP, in addition to the one being led by WorkSafe BC.