Town of PR reviews response to Pat’s Creek flood

Cause still undetermined

A map of the Town of Peace River clearly shows the affected flood area in the middle left. The flood area is approximate.

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

The Town of Peace River has given itself a passing grade on its response to the Pat’s Creek flood in April, but staff are still uncertain exactly what caused the flood.

On June 1 town council reviewed an After Action Report on the flooding that happened on April 18 when water poured into downtown from a manhole just north of the Town office.

The report identifies what worked well during the Town’s response and where there is room for improvement.

It includes a timeline of events. On the day of the flood, staff inspected the intake and outflows of Pat’s Creek at 11:30 a.m. and again at 5:30 p.m., and both times the creek was running as normal with no indications a flood was imminent. Then, at approximately 8:10 p.m. water started coming out of the Pat’s Creek access hatch on 99th Avenue. Within 15 minutes the trickle became a flood bubbling up over a metre high and visibly lifting slabs of pavement.

On call staff responded. Public works staff, the Peace River Fire Department, and the RCMP all got involved. A Tiger Dam, or a tube filled with water, was deployed to protect Telus. After blocking the manhole to stop the water didn’t work, earth berms were built to redirect the water flow. By 9:45 p.m. an Emergency Operations Centre [EOC] had been set up and a State of Local Emergency [SOLE] declared. By 10:15 p.m. pumps had been set up in Riverfront Park, and by 12:40 a.m., the decision had been made to breach the dike.

However, by 1 a.m., the water coming out of the manhole slowed and stopped, and the dike didn’t need to be breached. The water was pumped out of downtown by 5:30 a.m.

CAO Chris Parker says the report is not about what actually caused the flood and how to mitigate flooding in future. That will be covered in a future report after staff is able to do a full and thorough visual inspection of Pat’s Creek.

“We have not been able to do that due to water still flowing through,” Parker says.

The report concludes the Town’s response was effective and generally well executed, but includes an action plan to address areas for improvement.

“We don’t see this as a fault-finding exercise nor is it an attempt to second-guess decisions made on the scene,” Parker says, noting an emergency is a “high tempo event” with quickly changing conditions and information.

The report notes the Town’s Emergency Management Plan [EMP] is not up to date because the process was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Staff now hope to finish the updated plan by the end of summer 2020.

The report also outlines the ways the pandemic both helped and caused more issues during the flood.

Public works staff had been split into two shifts alternating days on, which meant that fewer staff were on duty for the initial call out and safe working conditions were affected.

On the other hand, the pandemic meant the Town had already activated the Business Continuity Plan and set up the Emergency Coordination Centre, meaning some of the needed equipment was already unpacked and the technology set up, with critical staff already linked by cell-phone groups and some public works staff linked by radio. There was already a relationship set up between the Town and the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.

The shutdown due to the virus meant there was less traffic downtown than normal and many stores were closed to the public, so there were very few people to evacuate. Contractors haven’t been fully employed, so had idle equipment that could be used at a moment’s notice.

The Town also already had a Tiger Dam from the province ready to go.

Councillor Orren Ford asked why a Tiger Dam previously purchased by the Town wasn’t used.

Town staff say it would have taken too long to set up.

“We bought the Tiger Dam because of the past Pat’s Creek flood. We knew this was a possible risk,” says Mayor Tom Tarpey.

“It concerns me that the answer we’ve been given today was well it would have taken too much time to dig it out. Where was the water dam and why wasn’t it set up? You’ve got to ask those questions because that’s exactly why we bought a water dam.”

Deputy Mayor Elaine Manzer asked if the trash gate on the creek was working.

“It did stop the ice, and what we believe happened…is there was a large abundance of water that literally lifted up the ice and then pushed it over the gate. That’s what we think happened,” Parker says.

He says options to make the gate more effective could be considered.

However, he cautioned that even after a thorough inspection, the Town may never know for sure what exactly caused the flooding.

Councillor Don Good says that’s the question that the public really cares about.

“I’ve been involved in a number of floods since I moved here, more than I expected when I moved here. One of them went over the Heart River Bridge, and another went over the dike in another area and they all were really quick. They happened in 15 minutes or less and all of sudden there’s water water everywhere and not a drop to drink.

“The fact that we can tighten up the emergency response, that’s wonderful, but the water is still going to come in over the dike and we’re going to have another 15-minute problem with lots of water,” Good says.

“To be quite honest, there’s ways to mitigate overall Pat’s Creek, and we’re going to have to go back to OK, how much money can we spend or will spend or want to spend, that is going to be the tougher one,” Parker says.

One option is to uncover the creek.

“We can open up, we can daylight it, but, one, it will be expensive, two, there’s some other issues you can have, you fix one problem but you might create other problems,” Parker says.

Parker adds other options could be just reroute it completely, which would have been easier if done during the work on the main bridge. There are other tools like temporary barriers that can be deployed quickly that the Town could buy.

Or the Town could dig down in Riverfront Park to make a retaining pond and have permanent automatic pumps set up there. The Town could also work with Northern Sunrise County to set up some kind of ponds.

“There’s lots of options we’re looking at and each one will have costs,” Parker says.

While Parker says he hopes the Town can find the reason for the flood, “Even if can’t, we do know there are going to be more floods. It’s not going to stop. We’ve had three incidences since 2013. We know that, then let’s try and mitigate it as much as we can.”

Tarpey says he’d like to see a subcommittee struck to thoroughly examine all the Town’s options.

The Town has applied for government disaster assistance programs, but has been told it will be while before the application is approved or denied.

Water pours out from the manhole between the Centennial Parking Lot and Panago Pizza April 18. Water flowed down the street toward Riverfront Park.

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