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Canmore faces long road to recovery

As rain fell on Canmore last Wednesday night (June 19) the full scope of what was about to happen to the community and its creeks was unimaginable for both residents and officials with the municipality.
Heavy equipment operators work feverishly to keep up with debris as Cougar Creek pours over the Trans-Canada Highway.
Heavy equipment operators work feverishly to keep up with debris as Cougar Creek pours over the Trans-Canada Highway.

As rain fell on Canmore last Wednesday night (June 19) the full scope of what was about to happen to the community and its creeks was unimaginable for both residents and officials with the municipality.

But as the situation changed moment from moment overnight to a full blown state of emergency, businesses, community members and Town of Canmore officials rallied resources and emergency plans to deal with the situation.

A week later, with a community still reeling and trying to mount a cleanup and disaster recovery plan, it is clear there is a strong spirit in Canmore and that is something that is impressive for Mayor John Borrowman.

“We have been through a few days of really high stress… the morale in town is pretty strong and people are feeling safe and they are feeling the authorities are dealing with things as they should be,” said the mayor. “There are residents in the community that are devastated — there is property damage particularly in the Cougar Creek area that will be difficult to deal with on a personal level.

“But at the end of the day we are really lucky here, there has been no loss of life and I have not heard of any personal injury and I know our friends and neighbours in other parts of the province have been less fortunate than that.”

Chief Administrative Officer Lisa de Soto said Tuesday (June 25) the municipality is moving out of a disaster response stage and into recovery mode.

However, at this time the Town of Canmore continues to assess the damage and what will be needed to fully recover from the flooding of Cougar Creek, the high water levels throughout the community and repairs to major highway infrastructure throughout the corridor.

“We are going to bring in some experts and with our own resources start looking at what is the smart thing to do in cougar creek, we’ve learned a lot from this incident and we are going to have to think really hard about where we go,” Borrowman said.

Even the boil water advisory in effect is expected to continue for a week to two weeks. It was issued, explained de Soto, due to high turbidity levels in the Rundle Forebay, which means there is significant particulate in the water. She added EPCOR will have to flush the entire system before it can be returned to normal.

The Trans-Canada Highway reopened from Banff to Canmore and east towards Calgary on Wednesday (June 26) at 3 p.m. Traffic is limited to two-lanes.

The community response during the emergency and after it subsided has been overwhelming, said Borrowman, and includes the resources coming from the Town of Banff, the Province, 13 additional RCMP officers in the community, local businesses and Canmore’s construction industry.

“Half the machinery in the creek was donated by local contractors,” he said. “There is just an inexpressible debt of gratitude we feel to all those people.”

Construction crews and equipment jumped in immediately to help out and Bow Valley Builders and Developers Association (BOWDA) executive director Ron Remple said it made a huge difference.

“I truly believe that without businesses such as Bremner Engineering, who put their equipment and operators into the middle of the flood to protect Elk Run bridge and Three Sisters Parkway, we would have lost that infrastructure and been much worse off than we are,” Remple said, adding Downer hauled in huge amounts of rock from its quarry to armour the bridges and protect the roads and Spring Creek Mountain Village helped south Canmore residents protect homes from flooding as just a few examples.

Coyote Ridge resident Eric Kuhn and his wife Sue Webb watched equipment work from their backyard along Cougar Creek. A home next to his had its foundations exposed and is one of 43 designated homes in the red zone considered uninhabitable at this time.

“It was just by the grace of how the creek chose to meander, if it was one chunk of rock or one tree upstream that acted as a bit of a sweep break and our house foundation wasn’t revealed,” he said, adding how fortunate they feel to be safe and still have their home. “It comes up very quickly in a conversation that we are absolutely floored by how quickly the response has been in terms of right from the moment at 3 a.m. how multiple agencies have been coordinating manpower to achieve what they have been able to achieve.”

Kuhn said the backhoe operators that got into the stream on Friday (June 21) below Elk Run Boulevard were able to channel the flow and save homes, including his. But it has been the response of businesses in the community that has also left a big impression on him

“We are absolutely so grateful to businesses that have come forward to assist in any way they can,” Kuhn said. “We couldn’t be allowed back into our home until we met a safety code issue with the Town to safeguard the property and a local golf course came to a big assistance for a number of us along here that needed some materials.”

Community response not only includes businesses, but local groups like the Rotary Club of Canmore are organizing fundraising campaigns to assist in flood relief.

“The Rotary Club of Canmore charitable foundation has created a flood relief fund and we are making donations acceptable in many locations,” said Sally Garen with Rotary. “We’re all members of the community and we are a service club, so that is part of our mandate to work with communities in times like this.”

Donations can be made at the Bow Valley Credit Union and various locations throughout town. Garen also said the Canada Day breakfast will go ahead as planned and the Calgary Stampede will also be attending.

Borrowman said whether or not the Trans-Canada is open for Canada Day, Canmore will be having a community celebration.

The mayor also said he is confident the provincial government will be on board for rebuilding, whatever that ends up looking like. Premier Alison Redford was in Canmore on Monday to examine the damage along with several cabinet ministers. She said a disaster recovery plan has been established and $1 billion dedicated to help residents and communities affected by the flood.

“The plan is going to make sure people are fully compensated because we have to make sure people have the soonest opportunity possible to rebuild their homes and families,” Redford said.

Minister of Municipal Affairs Doug Griffiths said rebuilding infrastructure will also be a top priority.

“There was significant infrastructure damage and we can’t simply turn the page and say everything is back to normal and life goes on,” Griffiths said. “That (Trans-Canada) highway is going to need a lot of work, of course it is a priority it is a national artery, it is a commitment we have as Canadians to make sure we are connected and it is symbolic, but there is a lot of work that needs to be done on that highway and we need to make sure it is done well.”

Canmore’s hospital maintained its operations throughout the flood event and manager Barb Shellian said it did not decrease services except for elective surgeries or procedures that could be rescheduled without risk to the patient.

“Even in the midst of being surrounded on three sides with water and basically having a cow trail to the hospital in terms of a road, we were fully operational and I think that is a testament to our staff and how hard everybody worked,” Shellian said.

The lower level of the hospital saw water levels rise and several functions, like food services, had to be moved to other areas of the hospital, but continued to operate.

“Really every day we are happy with what we are able to accomplish,” Shellian said with respect to flood recovery. “We are on our way to being back to the way we were before June 20.”

While questions about the future of homes along Cougar Creek remains unanswered, those displaced in the longer term will be accommodated, said Borrowman. Canmore Community Housing Corporation has began work on behalf of the municipality to find housing for people.

MLA Ron Casey said it is hard to fully comprehend the extent of damage caused by the flood event throughout the entire region. Bragg Creek in particular, he said, has been devastated with homes and historical buildings being washed away completely.

The response, by government, businesses and residents, he added, has been critical to bringing these communities back to normal.

“Everyone felt their communities were at risk and literally they came out in armies of people to help,” Casey said.

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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