Nusatsum Property Owner’s Association holds roundtable meeting

Nusatsum Property Owner’s Association holds roundtable meeting

A Round Table meeting was held on August 30, 2013 to discuss issues concerning flood mitigation in the Bella Coola Valley. Representatives of three provincial ministries were present as well as from two local groups.

Attendees were Michael Higgins, Emergency Management BC (EMB) ; David Flegel and Pat Lapcevic, Forests Lands and Natural Resources Operations (FLNRO); Dan Palesch, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI); Darla Blake and Donna Mikkelson, CCRD; and Oran Hoppe, Marvin Schmunk, Joan Cole, Nusatsum Property Owners Association.  Engineers Frank Baumann and Donald Hague, consulting for NPOA, also attended.

While the round table focussed primarily on the Nusatsum watershed, the discussions also included issues relevant to the entire Bella Coola River watershed. The purpose of the NPOA is stated in its Strategic Plan: “The Nusatsum Property Owners Association is dedicated to the preservation of property and lifestyle in the Bella Coola Valley.”

With that in mind, the meeting of various ministries and levels of government was organized by NPOA’s Executive Director Marvin Schmunk.  This was to be a face-to-face discussion of current problems of flood mitigation with local residents and the engineers tasked with planning a possible solution.

The two-hour meeting was a lively exchange among those present. Topics focused on the Nusatsum River and covered six areas: The Dike Maintenance Act; funding for flood mitigation, MOTI’s role, current conditions on the Nusatsum River; the role of the CCRD, and Engineering plans for the Nusatsum flood plain.

David Flegel (FLNRO) distributed copies of the Dike Maintenance Act, which applies to new structures and additions to existing and orphan structures. Government approval is not needed for repairs to existing structures as long as the repair is made according to the original design of the structure. Certified engineering plans are needed to assure this conformity.

John Baldwin, Water Stewardship Officer, said in a previous meeting that the province prefers the local regional government to take ownership of structures rather than private groups. MFLNRO would be happy to work with local groups, but the groups’ ability to do maintenance is problematic. The government wants assurance of longevity. A partnership between the CCRD and NPOA was suggested for structures on the Nusatsum.  Baldwin said that was working in other places and was the preferred course.

Michael Higgins (EMBC) said Disaster Financial Assistance and dike managers need to meet to clarify the question of ownership of new structures such as finger groynes. David Flegel reported that all dikes, except one, in the valley are orphaned.

A request for funding has to conform to an application process, which starts with the CCRD.  It then proceeds to the province’s Flood Mitigation Agency for approval and inclusion in the next year’s budget.  This funding normally comes through CCRD’s allocated funds; however there is nothing left from the $500,000 given to the CCRD for mitigation work after the 2010 flood event.

Higgins says that it is “highly unlikely” that large amounts will be spent in the valley, such as on the airport dike or the Hagensborg gap, because there simply is not enough money in the fund, which is 10 million per year for the whole province.  The only way these projects will be built is if the federal government decides to increase the amount of support it is willing to give the province for mitigation work.  The existing engineered plans for the Airport and Hagensborg will be shelved until then.

Dan Palesch said MOTI’s mandate is to put the highways back into pre-flood condition.  Usually this is not done during a flood event.  Mitigation works might be undertaken afterwards when the water has receded, if funding is available. It is done on an incremental basis, with small amounts of funding. However, there is currently no money in their budget for local projects (such as on the Nusatsum).

MOTI is responsible for the highway corridor in the valley and does not have the budget to do anything other than protect the highway.  MOTI has quarried rip-rap rock available in the valley but no money to do anything with it.  The groyne originally was built to protect Highway 20; it would seem logical to repair it with the material MOTI has stockpiled near the existing groyne and Highway 20.

Palesch and Higgins agreed that a plan for any work has to be finished, complete with engineering drawings and costing, before any consideration will be given to it by MOTI and EMB.

The Nusatsum spur was created by MOTI but is now considered orphaned.  It could be referred to as a “linear spoil pile,” because it was not engineered.  However, it lasted 30 years. There is no protection on the dike right now and it will erode more in the next high flow.  The original needs to be reinforced for its own survival and for any future structures.

The CCRD is responsible for flood mitigation in the Bella Coola valley and in fact, funding from Provincial sources can only come through the CCRD. It is the CCRD’s job to evaluate the hazards through the EPC position and set priorities for flood mitigation that are included in a long-term plan.   Although several agencies will be involved in different aspects of a project, each agency would want to see the whole package, as well as the portion it is involved with.  It needs to be a common proposal coordinated by the CCRD.

The FRAC report was written in 2010 prior to the 2011 and 2012 high water events. Don Hague (NPOA engineer) noted that the 2011 flood was smaller but more damage occurred due to the instability of the sediment coming down as the result of de-glaciation  He noted that huge sediment loads mean quick changes in flow and can cause large losses quickly. Higgins stressed that the FRAC priority list needs to be reviewed again by the CCRD and updated according to current conditions on the river.  The ranking should be done on the basis of both a hazard rating and a priority given to projects that are “feasible” based on funding, timing and DMA issues. Flegel said the CCRD needs to raise the priority of the Nusatsum Project on this report.

Higgins said the whole valley needs to be involved and that meetings, one with the CCRD Board and one with valley residents, with John Baldwin to discuss the situation are needed. The population and CCRD need to be talking as one.  These meetings are the first step in the due process needed to follow the chain of government up to the higher levels. He stressed that it is necessary to stay within the framework expected by the higher levels of government.

Higgins also said that a formal letter of chain of authority is needed from the CCRD. Palesch noted that the local government has jurisdictional responsibility within the groyne’s right of way.  Marvin Schmunk of the NPOA underlined the fact that the CCRD is responsible for working on and getting a fix on the critical flood points on the Bella Coola River. A letter of understanding between NPOA and the CCRD is already on file. It is within the CCRD’s mandate to do this work, as evidenced by the grant of $500,000 post-2010 for mitigation work.

Higgins emphasized that “non-structural mitigation” is important, including educating valley residents on what to do, and when, to prepare for flooding.  He said education must be a primary focus between now and the next event as the government will not cover private loses.  People must flood-proof their own homes and start to mitigate their own losses.

Frank Baumann of NPOA has looked for solutions that would reduce bank erosion, create/preserve fish habitat and address the migration of the Nusatsum during floods. The first priority is to repair the Nusatsum Groyne (existing structure), and then extend the length of it. The plan also proposes to next put in series of wing dikes or finger groynes. By starting small and showing success there is opportunity to add more later. He noted that groynes/wing dikes are of relatively low cost and are effective structures that have a favourable impact on fish habitat.

Baumann and Hauge distributed engineering plans for repairing the original groynes and building the proposed wing dikes in the Nusatsum flood plain. Berms/groynes/finger dikes could be constructed with materials close at hand, at the smallest cost. Based on hazards, they suggested the top groyne be repaired, then finger groynes be constructed at location further down stream on the east and west sides of the Nusatsum.

They also underlined the fact that most of the rip rap required for the proposed finger groynes is currently stockpiled on the river bank and is likely to be washed down the river if not used in a timely fashion. The current funding program intake has closed and there is no additional status information from EMBC at this time.