Region braces for another downpour

The District of Chetwynd is still recovering from the massive damage caused by the last flooding event in late June, but fortunately, it appears the town will avoid the most intense rainfall this weekend. Paul Gordon, the district's deputy director of engineering and public works, said he was in on a conference call early this morning where Environment Canada reported Chetwynd and area is only expected to receive 20 millimetres of rain over the weekend.

"It looks like Chetwynd is going to dodge this bullet, because if we got it again, our infrastructure was already severely damaged – our sewers are full of gravel, we have broken water mains all over town and were losing water into the ground," said Gordon. "We're very vulnerable right now, and had we taken another hit like that, it would have been disastrous.

He said crews and heavy equipment were put on standby in strategic areas across the town in anticipation of another heavy rainfall event, but he believes based on the latest information he can now tell those crews to stand down.

However, Gordon said the district still has a lot of work ahead to fully recover from the flooding a couple weeks ago. He said, for example,equipment in the pumphouse that draws the town's water from the Pine River was destroyed when the river surged to record-setting levels, actually submersing the entire building at one point. He said the provincial government did approve funding to replace that equipment and that work had started this week, adding a heavy rainfall this weekend would have set that work back quite a bit.

He said they expect to begin drawing from the river again early next week, but until then the town is relying on artesian wells dug about a decade ago following an oil spill into the Pine River. He said that source is a reliable supply, but the water quality is poor and is hard on the water treatment system, and it only supplies enough to cover domestic consumption and fire suppression, not enough to fill the town's reservoirs.

"We don't like to use it, but in an emergency situation like this we have to," he said.

Gordon added the sewer system was damaged by the infiltration of sand and gravel, resulting in many blockages and flooding in basements.

"I think were just getting that under control now, but I still have my flusher out there steady."

However, he said it may take over a year before they can completely repair the damage done in the town and surrounding areas.

"We've been focused up until now just on the town centre, but we have a big geographical area with walking trails and bridges and facilities that are on the outskirts of town that we haven't even assessed yet."

He said the provincial government has stepped in to fund repair work and reimburse the district for the costs of equipment, contractors and overtime worked by staff. He added the province has set up an emergency command centre in the town's rec centre to process claims of damages and help flood victims find assistance.

"We even have the Red Cross in town helping seniors and others to fill out the paperwork and forms," he said.

Gordon added the response from the province, his own staff, and many local contractors and suppliers who donated time, materials and equipment, was very heartwarming to see.

In Dawson Creek, City Hall has already began notifying residents of the potential for flooding, including those businesses and homeowners who reported damages after the last flooding event.

"We're hoping it doesn't (flood), but we don't know for sure," said Kevin Henderson, director of infrastructure for the City of Dawson Creek. "We feel that at least allows individuals who are maybe just starting to put their basements or other things back in order to hold off just in case. We would hate to see somebody put furniture back in their basement after getting everything cleaned up, just to have another issue."

He added public works crews have begun checking drains to make sure they are clear of debris.

"Other than that, there is not a lot more we can do. We really just have to wait and see and respond as necessary. If we do have some more localized flooding, crews will be ready to barricade roads if necessary and things like that."

However, he said they can now anticipate where the Dawson Creek would likely flood if it did and are prepared to respond.

Henderson said his department is in constant contact with the Provincial Emergency Program to receive regular updates, and they will relay as much information to the public as quickly as possible via the city's website at www.dawsoncreek.ca, as well as through their Facebook page.

The province's Ministry of Transportation is preparing for worst-case scenarios, ensuring extra staff, equipment and materials are available in strategic locations around the region, said Brent Davies, a project manager who has been called in from Prince George to help in the district operation centre in Fort St. John.

"We've established quite a large operational centre here so we can make sure we're able to address any concerns," said Davies. "We're pulling people from all over the province to assist us with this, recognizing it is a very serious and major flooding event."

He added they have geotechnical engineers on site who will be monitoring the safety of some of the major highways, including through the Pine Pass.

Davies said they will update road conditions in the region as soon as possible via the DriveBC website, which includes a special link for updates on all roads in the Peace region, as well as through the ministry's Facebook page and Twitter account.

"We're really trying to reach out to the general public in a variety of different media with the intent to give people as much real-time, updated information as possible."

He encouraged motorists to report any problems on the roads to the region's local contractors: Caribou Road Services in the South Peace.

"We do appreciate the public helping us out in giving us a heads-up on any issues they might be seeing out in the field," said Davies.

The latest road conditions can be viewed online at www.drivebc.ca.

Mile 0 City will continue to update conditions in the South Peace in the coming days.

 

 

 

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