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Bighorn flood mitigation projects face uncertainty after funding cuts

"The fact the funding was cut was a bit of a surprise and really unfortunate."

BIGHORN – The MD of Bighorn is reconfiguring its flood mitigation projects funding after the Alberta Community Resilience Program (ACRP) was terminated.

Following the 2013 southern Alberta floods that severely damaged several hamlets in Bighorn, the MD has been working for the past six-and-a-half years to restore communities and mitigate potential flood pathways with grants from the federal and provincial governments.

The ACRP, which had a provincial grant covering $8.7 million between three flood mitigation projects in the MD was terminated recently, meaning no new funding will be available for flood projects.

"The fact the funding was cut was a bit of a surprise and really unfortunate," said reeve Dene Cooper. "I am only speaking for the MD of Bighorn, but for all that very hard work for six years and we weren't finished when the funding was withdrawn halfway, isn't very satisfying."

The grant from the ACRP had allocated $2 million to the design of Exshaw and Jura creeks, plus phase one of Jura construction, $3.33 million to the design and construction of Heart Creek and $3.37 million for the construction of Exshaw Creek.

In a staff report presented to council, the tentative plan was to move around any surpluses to Jura Creek.

"This process will likely take until the end of 2020," Director of Flood Recovery for the MD Doug Fulford wrote in the staff report. "Once Exshaw Creek and Heart Creek are completed and paid for, we will have a clear picture of whether a surplus is available for use in Jura Creek and whether that surplus is sufficient to proceed with any more work in Jura Creek." 

Before the program was terminated, it was a multi-year grant program that provided funding for the design and construction of projects that protected critical infrastructure from flooding and drought. 

With concerns surrounding phase two of Jura Creek, Cooper explained the mitigation process with that particular creek was a complicated one.

Phase one of Jura Creek was engineered and funded to deepen and widen the creek, but provincial funding was rescinded before phase two could be complete, which had plans to amour the earth banks, putting riprap – also known as rock armour – at certain points along the creek.

"The earth works are vulnerable and I have anxiety to get it done and would really like to have it done," Cooper said.

"I would like to see [phase two] complete in the next couple of years. The community is far better protected with it than without it."

Fulford confirmed the project is on hold until an alternative source of funding can be secured, to the tune of $2.5 million.

"Jura Creek flooding continues to pose a significant risk to Exshaw residents and infrastructure," Fulford wrote in an email.

While the uncertainty of the Jura project remains in the air, officials talked about the remaining flood mitigation projects in the MD.

The most recently worked on, Exshaw Creek was substantially completed last fall with the project designed to provide flood protection up to one in a 500-year flood, Fulford said.

"To put this in perspective, if the 2013 flood were to re-occur, the new Exshaw Creek flood structure should protect residents and infrastructure from significant damage. The remaining work is mostly cosmetic, and will be completed in the spring of 2020," Fulford said noting the project was paid for in grants from the provincial and federal governments, plus significant contributions by Lafarge and the MD of Bighorn with a total price tag of $10.7 million.

The Heart Creek project still has funding secured and is waiting on final approval from the province to move forward. Once all approvals are in place, Fulford said the project will be tendered with construction expected to start in April.

"We anticipate the work will be completed by the fall of 2020," Fulford said, noting the project will be paid for by grants from the provincial and federal governments, plus contributions by the MD of Bighorn.

The MD is also working with neighbouring municipalities, notably the Town of Canmore, to ensure safety for its residents with creeks that span across the Bow Valley.

For example, last month the Town of Canmore asked for permission to utilize a .933-hectare piece of MD of Bighorn land for the construction and operation of the Cougar Creek flood mitigation. Reeve and council gave immediate unanimous support.   

"Council's decision reflects our resident's message from all of Bighorn to all the residents of Canmore. We were all badly flooded in 2013. We have not forgotten. Indeed, we cannot and should not," Cooper said.

"Rest assured that our municipality wholeheartedly extends permission in this matter. Clearly, this project will protect precious lives and valuable property for generations to come. It is a privilege to be part of making it happen."

The MD is also working with the Town of Canmore for debris flood mitigation along steep creeks in the Bow Valley, including Pigeon Creek in Dead Man's Flat. The Federal government granted $13.7 million to the project almost one year ago.

Last October, the MD council also entered into an Ultimate Recipient Agreement with the Town of Canmore regarding the federal Disaster Mitigation and Adaption Fund, which will fund up to 40 per cent of Canmore's and the MD's flood mitigation projects, including Exshaw Creek, Heart Creek, Jura Creek, Pigeon Creek and Harvie Heights Creek.

In the report presented by administration, it was noted that while it was a joint application between municipalities, the Town of Canmore was the official grant applicant and recipient. The draft agreement outline the "flow through" arrangement, where the MD of Bighorn will submit claims to the Town of Canmore, who in turn will submit them to Infrastructure Canada. Once payment is received, the Town of Canmore will forward the payment to the MD of Bighorn.

Cooper said working together is crucial to ensure safety.

"We know what it is like to be flooded and we wouldn't choose that for our neighbours ... we are there for Canmore and we feel if they could help us then they would too," Cooper said, noting there is still work to be done.

"Flood isn't the only peril we have. We have forest fires, we have pandemics and we have to be protecting ourselves for a spectrum of possibilities.

"We are working on flood and we need to work on flood. We are not quite done."


Jenna Dulewich,

Follow me on Twitter @JennaDulewich


Jenna Dulewich

About the Author: Jenna Dulewich

Jenna Dulewich is a national and provincial award-winning multi-media journalist. Joining the Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2019, she covers Stoney Nakoda, MD of Bighorn, Canmore and court.
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