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Fairmont debris flow event ‘could have been catastrophic’

Debris flow mitigation measures from two years ago prevented a larger scale disaster
Fairmont Creek uppermost debris traps. Photo courtesy RDEK.

The debris flow in Fairmont last week was the second-largest in the community’s history, as crews continue a massive clean-up effort.

“The heavy rainfall on May 31 resulted in the second-largest debris flow in recorded history in Fairmont and an estimated 30,000m3 of logs, rock and other debris in our traps on Fairmont Creek and Cold Spring Creek,” said Brian Funk, the RDEK Engineering Services Manager. “This event is roughly half the size of the 2012 debris flow and could have been catastrophic had the new debris flow mitigation measures not been in place.”

As a result of the debris flow event, roads and culverts were over-topped with mud and water, basement and garage flooding in a few houses closest to the creek and roughly six properties with mud and water in their yards. The nearby resort also sustained impacts to the golf course and infrastructure.

Contractors on site have restored roughly 75 per cent of capacity on Cold Spring Creek debris trap and continued to work on the lower Cold Spring Creek debris trap, channel and culvert throughout last weekend.

On Fairmont Creek, crews removed logs and debris, restored the channel and finished a berm and grading above Campground Rd. and at Marble Canyon. Work also began on Hole 12 of the nearby golf course with the removal of excavated material throughout the weekend and will remain active in the area this week.

Crews are also at work to create access into the uppermost traps on Fairmont Creek and have begun the debris removal process. Additionally, crews also tackled a section of creek near Riverview where the armouring and erosion protection was destroyed in the flooding event.

“Our priority is to restore as much capacity within the creeks and the debris traps as possible so that we are ready if another event were to occur,” said Funke. “Having said that, we need residents to remain aware and prepared as both creek systems are still vulnerable to flooding, particularly now during the freshet season.”

A BC Wildfire Services crew was also on site, pre-filling roughly 1,000 sandbags on Friday afternoon to help community members proactively get sandbags in place. Sandbags can be found at the old barn at the Mountainside golf course and the pullout on the Columbia River Road north of the creek.

Two years ago, the RDEK completed a three-phase debris flow mitigation project on Fairmont Creek, which involved creating more capacity within the creek, along with debris traps to capture and hold debris in case of a flooding event.

“Although this isn’t the first test of the debris traps, it is certainly the most significant and the system did an incredible job of keeping the large debris away from homes and properties,” adds Funke. “While we never like to see any on-the-ground impacts, and we don’t want to minimize the impact on those affected property owners, this could have been so much worse.”

The total project cost for the Fairmont Creek Debris Flow Mitigation Project was just over $1.94 million. It was 92 per cent funded by Emergency Management BC, four per cent by Community Works Funds and four per cent by the community through the Fairmont Creek Flood & Debris Flow Control Service.

Earlier this year the RDEK received funding for a Debris Flood Mitigation Project on Cold Spring Creek. While that project has not yet started, the Board awarded the engineering contract to McElhaney at its May 29 Board Meeting.


Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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