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Exshaw residents frustrated with municipality amid flooding

“As a politician, if you will not go see what your constituents are dealing with, then you don’t have the right to speak about what’s going on.”

EXSHAW – Tears rolled down Margaret Anderson's face as she embraced her husband Ralph on their front lawn Friday (June 5) while neighbours began packing up their belongings.

Due to the ongoing groundwater flooding in Exshaw, the Anderson family decided to be proactive and remove their personal possessions from their Pigeon Mountain Drive home after noticing buckling in the floor.

“The plan is to get it all [contents of main floor] into the trailer – go get another trailer and fill it up. That’s as far as the plan goes right now,” said Ralph Anderson.

The family will remain living in the house.

“It should be fine. There shouldn’t be three feet of water again like last time,” said Margaret Anderson, referring to the 2013 floods that washed through the MD of Bighorn hamlet.

Mountainside snowmelt and rain have caused the groundwater to flood Exshaw and caused havoc on its wastewater system over the past few weeks.

According to the MD of Bighorn, wastewater collection systems at the east lift station, and at the wastewater lagoon, are experiencing extreme volumes and cannot keep up to all the flow due to rising groundwater levels. Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) gave approval to the MD residents to pump wastewater from the lift station into the culvert under Highway 1A and into the Bow River.

Al Hogarth, the MD Bighorn Utilities Foreman, said there was no reports of sewage backing up into residents homes Friday afternoon.

"If the lift station were to flood this whole side of town would have the sewers back up ... 75 per cent of the town would be affected,” said Hogarth.

"If everything works the way it's been working, we won't have to do any kind of emergency work at the lift station."

The MD is monitoring the situation at the lift station, but the main concern has shifted back to pumping water out of yards and basements.

“Job number one is getting water out of east Exshaw, [Mt.] Mcgillvary [Drive] and Pigeon [Mountain Drive], and then we’ll figure out what caused it, but for the time being we need to de-water this place and help people out,” said MD Councillor Paul Ryan.

Some residents, however, are becoming frustrated with how the local municipality is handling the situation.

Brent Peters, whose basement is flooded, said the MD isn't addressing the problem.

“As a politician, if you will not go see what your constituents are dealing with, then you don’t have the right to speak about what’s going on,” said Peters.

Kelly Suchan has eight pumps in his basement running around the clock to drain out the groundwater. He said he might have to add another pump after finding water flowing in from another section of his basement. 

"We just have to stay focused on what's important right now and stay in the present. We can't think too much about what could go wrong in the future."
 
Fergus Sinclair, who now has a moat around his house because of all the flowing water at the corner of Pigeon Mountain Drive and Heart Mountain Drive feels let down by his local government.

“At this point it doesn't feel as if we will get help," he said, while moving things in his garage to higher ground.

MD Reeve Dene Cooper said that the last groundwater flooding event in the hamlet was in 2017, but pointed out that the flooding event this year is worse.

"This year the water seems to be under higher pressure and flowing faster...it means there's more volume involved," Cooper said.

While Cooper said he hasn't visited inside of homes of residents during the past 10 days, but he has spoken with them this week.

Cooper was adamant the MD is working around the clock to resolve the situation. He stated the MD has about $600,000 worth of flood pumping equipment on the ground, public works crews and EMS are involved with various aspects of keeping the water moving, contractors equipment on site and sewer pipes to help move water away from homes. This morning the preliminary hydrologist investigation was completed.

"I am the reeve and I've got to run a municipality ... You know people might not understand that my is to job to set policy and keep the wheels moving and I can't be in the basement and do that, at least not yet," said Cooper.

"I've been living in my boots, but I can't go in basements. I'm glad some of my other councillors have been able to do that for me."

On Friday afternoon, MP Blake Richards and MLA Miranda Rosin walked the streets of Pigeon Mountain Drive and Mt. Mcgillivary Drive, where much of the flooding is occurring, and spoke to residents.

Richards and Rosin said they would provide assistance if requested by the MD.

“The situation is dire. Something needs to be done. If we can take away anything from today it’s that everyone has a lot of questions,” said Rosin. “Now we need to ask the tough questions and get the answers so we find out what happened and why it happened and to try and mitigate this so it doesn’t become a yearly routine.”

Richards echoed Rosin’s sentiment, having seen the devastation of the 2013 floods.

“Certainly right now we need to have a good understanding of what is exactly going on and the when and if there is a need to ask for assistance at the federal I will be able to do that with an informed opinion,” Richards said.

Rosin added that a disaster relief proposal has been submitted by the province, earlier this week, on behalf of the MD and is being reviewed by the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.




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Evan Buhler

About the Author: Evan Buhler

Evan Buhler is an award-winning photojournalist and reporter who joined the Outlook in 2019. A native of Calgary, he previously worked in Salmon Arm, B.C.
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