Long road to recovery in High River

Flood 2013: New flood protection projects compelted

By: Don Patterson

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jun 18, 2014 10:28 am

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A year after the devastating flood of 2013 swept through High River, the scars remain.

The Town has been a virtual construction zone for 12 months as roads, businesses and homes are rebuilt. New flood berms have been built since the June 20 flood and existing structures have been raised as much as 10 feet.

For all that has been accomplished, there’s still a lot to do. While some businesses have reopened their doors, others are still rebuilding. Some families are back in their homes, while some houses sit vacant still needing repairs. Some families have left altogether as others are moving in to call High River home.

High River resident William Burridge said it’s going to be a long process to recover and the town likely won’t be the same as before.

“It's not going to be the same town, the community I don't think will ever be the same,” he said.

Burridge never expected his home on the town’s east end would ever flood.

He was at work in Okotoks when the flood first hit High River. When he made it home around 6 p.m., the house avoided the flood to that point. However, just a couple hours later, Burridge said he could see water levels in Emerson Lake rising. He said he stayed as long as he could, but decided to leave when he saw the water coming up the road to his house.

“I stayed right to the end, I watched the water come up the road and as the water reached the man holes, the pressure blew them out and I knew it’s time, you got to go,” he said.

Burridge was out of his house for a month and a half and there was still four feet of water in his basement when he first got home. He jumped into action to get working right away.

“The day I got in, the next day the basement was totally cleaned out – and it was a finished basement,” he said.

It took eight and a half hours for the Highwood River to peak and at it's widest extent, the flood covered 59 per cent of the town. More than 70 per cent of the homes in town were affected and over 5,000 homes were evacuated.

The Provincial government has dedicated $87 million to flood protection for High River.

A lot of work has been done in the past year to protect the community against flooding. The flood berms and dikes in town were rebuilt to the 2013 high-water mark and 498 Avenue north of High River was raised to prevent a repeat of last year's flooding on the town’s east side.

The former CP Rail bridge has been removed, eliminating a significant choke point on the river in the centre of town and the Wallaceville neighbourhood will be returned to a natural state.

The Province is also looking at building a flood diversion channel around High River.

High River Mayor Graig Snodgrass said the projects have come together quickly to get as much work as possible done within a year of the flood. Everything that is planned, and the projects that have been completed, will help to secure the town’s future, he said.

Snodgrass said future floods on the scale seen in 1995 and 2005 won’t cause any problems for the Town and any future events would have to be bigger than last year’s flood to cause any serious damage.

“With what your seeing being completed now, this town is going to be much better than it ever, ever was in the past or ever would have been,” he said.

Snodgrass said all the work done in the last year is only the first phase to rebuilding and ultimately securing the Town’s long-term future.

“Now is when we can really focus on long-term measures for the Town of High River, the economy and the residents,” he said.

Snodgrass said the biggest project that still needs to be done is a diversion around the town.

The Province is studying potential routes for flood channels designed to divert water around High River, with price tags running as high as $200 million.

Nothing has been decided yet, but Rick Fraser, associate minister of recovery and reconstruction of High River, said the Province wants to make sure the town is protected.

“We need a decision as soon as we can so people can start planning,” he said.

Fraser said there are still a number of issues that need to be dealt with, including alignment, discussions with landowners and impacts on irrigation networks.

In the mean time, High River residents are continuing to try to rebuild their lives.

Since returning home, Burridge has taken several steps to protect his home, including raising his furnace by three feet and installing a tankless hot water heater on the ceiling in his basement, well away from the floor.

His front door was kicked in by RCMP and he said it was finally replaced last week. Burridge hasn't put drywall up in his basement yet and he hasn’t done landscaping.

However, after everything that has happened in the last year, Burridge isn’t moving.

He plans to stay in the community he has come to love.

“I'm definitely staying, I like the town,” he said. “I probably never will move from there.”


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