Friday, July 31, 2015

Sandbagging begins on riverfront

With Rainy Lake and the upper Rainy River continuing to rise, the local Emergency Management Group has jumped into action.

As of 11 a.m. today, the town began building a wall of sandbags along Front Street as a safeguard against possible flooding.
“Given the circumstance and the information we have, we’ve identified that we need to protect three areas of the community,” Fort Frances Fire Chief Frank Sheppard said this morning.
“One starting at the hospital and working eastward to almost Mosher Avenue [and] a second one in front of the Sorting Gap Marina.
“And also a third one from the Sorting Gap Marina to partway around Colonization Road East to ensure that we’ve got an additional freeboard elevation to protect the community from both high water and wave action that could be occurring at that point,” he added.
Chief Sheppard said while there was talk of building a berm (a small hill or wall of dirt or sand) yesterday, it’s been determined the barrier won’t have to be as high as first believed.
“It’s very positive on that end but we’ve still got a lot of work ahead of us,” he stressed, noting the town now needs volunteers to help out with the sandbagging.
Anyone able to help out is urged to drop by the main command centre now set up at the Sorting Gap Marina, or the trailer at La Place Rendez-Vous, to provide their name and contact information.
They also can call the town’s emergency call centre line at 274-1818.
“Anyone that wishes to come down to help us or to call in here, we’ll certainly get in touch with them and try to get them scheduled if they’re prepared to assist us,” Chief Sheppard said.
The fortification of the riverfront is to protect the sanitary sewer located in the southeast part of town (from Front Street going north to Church Street).
In simplest terms, if the whole river goes into the sanitary sewer, everyone’s basements in the town will get flooded.
There are 83 catch basins in this area. Town crews already have started to plug and sandbag all of them.
Crews also have water-sealed each sanitary manhole—building a three-foot dike with poly and sandbags on each one of them and covering the manholes in plastic.
“If we lose our sewer system, it would be devastating,” Chief Sheppard warned.
He added the town is not looking at a “doomsday circumstance” right now, but is planning for what may happen sooner or later.
“This area can get a lot of rain in June. The history of it is there,” Chief Sheppard noted. “We know we can get a lot of water.
“And once we get into July, there’s some very unpredictable high winds that can come from the east.
“So we have to be prepared to deal with that eventuality, as well as the idea of just exactly what we know,” he explained.
“So we’re building some additional buffers in there to ensure the community is protected.”  
Chief Sheppard said the sandbagging along the riverfront will be done around the clock throughout the weekend.
“Day or night, if you’re prepared to help us, we can use the help,” he reiterated.
In response to concerns voiced by citizens, Chief Sheppard again reassured the public that the water treatment plant is safe and the town’s drinking is not in jeopardy.
The town also will be contacting residents who have boats docked at the marina and asking them to move them.
Couchiching First Nation, meanwhile, continues to battle the high lake levels, with the new focus being on stopping erosion of the cemetery there.
Coun. Christine Jourdain said the waves and winds from last night have started to erode the northeast corner of the graveyard.
“Our concern is that it is eroding underneath the land,” she noted. “[And] once it erodes underneath, all of that is going to fall away.
“We could have potential for some of our graves to be impacted by it.
“As well, along the waterfront, we’re noting from our residents taking pictures is they’re experiencing the same issue as the cemetery is,” Coun. Jourdain continued.
“It’s washing out underneath, the ground is becoming unstable, and the land is falling.
“We’re worried about trees, as well, falling into the system, into the lake, and then coming down to the Ranier bridge and capping that system up,” she warned.
“We’re looking at a catastrophe out there,” Coun. Jourdain stressed. “We’re at the maximum lake level our First Nation can accept, so we are diligently sandbagging along the riverfront.
“We have lots of volunteers out,” she noted. “MNR has offered their services. CN has offered their services, as well, for manpower.
“We’re readily accepting their assistance.”
No residences on Couchiching have had to be evacuated yet, but the possibility remains on the radar, Coun. Jourdain said.
She added the band has the co-operation of the town’s emergency group to help any evacuees find lodging at local hotels.

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