Marking the start of a new Idlewild Park

City officials gather for sod-turning ceremony as Idlewild dam construction is expected to start in a few weeks.

Local officials celebrated the start of the process to replace the dam and spillway at Idlewild Lake as well as the subsequent park redevelopment. Pictured above: David Kim (City of Cranbrook CAO)

Local officials celebrated the start of the process to replace the dam and spillway at Idlewild Lake as well as the subsequent park redevelopment. Pictured above: David Kim (City of Cranbrook CAO)

Local politicians came together to make Idlewild great again with an official sod-turning ceremony at the park on Tuesday to mark the upcoming construction of a new dam structure and spillway.

Work will begin once a contractor is in place and is expected to wrap up before the snow flies in the fall. To pay for the project, Cranbrook secured $2.8 million in funding from the Federal Gas Tax fund, while the RDEK and Area C kicked in $500,000.

Though the Gas Tax funding was announced in February, the city is working towards starting construction in August. Once the dam and spillway projects are complete, the focus will shift to redeveloping the whole park.

“We have a short construction period,” said Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt. “So hopefully we’ll get going here in the next two or three weeks and things will go well and we can get what we have to get done this year, then next year, we’ll be able to concentrate on enhancing the surrounding park and making it a nice showcase for the community.”

The existing dam is earthen-filled with a concrete core and the rehabilitation work will include strengthening the structure and increasing the slopes upstream and downstream and replacing the spillway to allow for higher capacity water flow.

In order to do that, the lake will have to be dredged, however, fish stocks, turtles and other creatures will be relocated to other suitable habitats.

“It’s critical for the dam work to be done as far as a safety standpoint with the provincial government,” said Mike Matejka, the project manager. “They have required us to replace or upgrade the dam or have it decommissioned — those were the options that we had. From a dam safety perspective and an infrastructure perspective, that is mandatory.

“The rest of the work with the parks upgrades and the leisure upgrades are just something that we feel needed to happen because it’s been so long since those have been upgraded.”

The parks and leisure upgrades will be made following a consultation process that has seen 1,000 responses from public surveys and a Facebook Page called ‘Make Idlewild Great Again.’

The park is a unique area because of it’s geographic location — it borders the outside edge of city limits — and includes Cranbrook users and those who live in Gold Creek, which is RDEK jurisdiction.

Rob Gay, the Area C director and RDEK board chair, said that the park is a special case as it is within RDEK jurisdiction, however, the City of Cranbrook is responsible for the lake.

The funding, for both the City of Cranbrook and the RDEK comes from the federal Gas Tax Fund. The fund, which accumulates through taking a percentage every time someone gases up their vehicle at the fuel pumps, is returned to UBCM and distributed to local governments.

Gay added that the $500,000 will come out of the RDEK’s portion of the Gas Tax grant and will not mean any adjustments to property taxes.

Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett lauded Mayor Pratt and the council for making a difficult decision to draw the lake down and decommission the dam, which he called a public safety issue.

“I’m certainly thankful that this current mayor and council have shown the courage to lower the water, make it safe for people and then go out and find the money and get it fixed,” Bennett said.

The dam was identified as structurally unsound in a report to city council at the beginning of 2015, and the lake levels have been drawn down to relieve stress on the structure.

Lake levels were drawn down last summer to relieve pressure on the structure, while city officials worked with various provincial and federal ministries to come up with a plan to fix the dam that wouldn’t have an averse impact on the lake’s ecological system, which is important habitat for migratory birds and turtles.