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MD of Bighorn awards contract for Jura Creek debris flood mitigation

"I understand that this mitigation work is intended to protect Exshaw from debris floods, but I fear there is still too much uncertainty around groundwater issues in east Exshaw if the current mitigation design were to proceed, so I cannot support [the motion]," said Councillor Lisa Rosvold on Tuesday (June 8).

EXSHAW – While elected officials in the Municipal District of Bighorn voted to award a contract to construct debris flood mitigation in Jura Creek, the decision was less than unanimous.

In a 3-2 vote Tuesday (June 8), council approved the motion to move forward with the project and award the tender to Golder Associates Ltd.; however, Councillors Lisa Rosvold and Paul Ryan were opposed to proceeding with the $5 million construction project at this time. 

"I understand that this mitigation work is intended to protect Exshaw from debris floods, but I fear there is still too much uncertainty around groundwater issues in east Exshaw if the current mitigation design were to proceed, so I cannot support [the motion]," Rosvold said. 

Ryan was equally concerned with conflicting information from two different engineering firms, council was pushing forward with a project that could contribute towards the significant groundwater flooding experienced by residents in the hamlet last year.

A third-party review of the steep creek flood mitigation design for Jura Creek by BGC Engineering raised a number of issues around the potential effects of the infrastructure on groundwater levels and homes in east Exshaw. 

"Until a detailed hydrogeological assessment demonstrates otherwise, it is conceivable that the proposed design could increase groundwater levels in east Exshaw during annual runoff and debris floods," stated the report. 

As a result of the findings, Ryan requested council seek a legal opinion on proceeding with the project. That review was presented in-camera to council during this week's meeting. 

However, Ryan put forward an unsuccessful motion to request that BGC appear in front of council to answer questions. He said he would like to better understand from BGC's perspective the implications of changes made to the design by Golder as a result of the third-party review.   

"I think a number of questions can be answered that would clarify how we make decisions and inform the decision we make," he said. 

Reeve Dene Cooper, as well as Councillors Erik Butters and Paul Clark, supported the motion to award the tender for the project and proceed with construction this year. 

"I think the MD has done its due diligence in having a third party look at the design," Clark said. "Golder has acted on it, and in my opinion, as the consultant that is in charge of this project, it is their decision with respect to what they can do with BGC's recommendations."

Cooper noted the risk to the community from debris floods, like what was experienced in June 2013, is a higher priority to address than the issue of groundwater flooding in people's homes. 

"The overland flooding is by far the greatest hazard to the east Exshaw community," he said. "It involves property, it involves infrastructure and it involves the potential for the loss of lives.

"Groundwater is another issue that can be worked on, but it is not the major issue before the community." 

Prior to the meeting, the Exshaw Residents Group, formed in the wake of last year's unprecedented groundwater flooding, sent a letter to council requesting the project be delayed. They noted homes in the hamlet are already pumping out groundwater from their basements. 

"As East Exshaw is once again inundated with groundwater, we as residents and members of the Exshaw Residents Group implore council to delay the start of the Jura Creek project until the groundwater issues we are encountering this year are better understood," wrote the group.