Flip, flop and flume

Kimberley Council has changed its collective mind, and the flume project is going ahead

Carolyn Grant

Well, that was interesting. And those, dear readers, are not words you would expect to hear me say after a city council meeting.

But after Monday night’s meeting of Kimberley City Council, I was surprised — one might even go so far as to say gob-smacked — by the news that the collective mind of council had been changed and the flume project was going ahead this summer. In fact, construction will begin in less than 10 days.

First, some background for those who may not have been following this project from day one. The concrete flood protection flume, a utilitarian, most unattractive channel which carries Mark Creek through downtown Kimberley, is failing, has failed, has potential to fail….. That was established back in 2010 when the late Jim Ogilvie was Mayor.

That it had to be rehabbed or replaced was agreed upon. It was a safety issue. Grants were pursued but difficult to find. It was during the administration of Ron McRae that the work began. While the city had tax payer approval to borrow up to $4.25 million for the project, it was always understood that grants would help pay for it. However, the first phase was completed in 2012, over-budget and without any money from upper levels of government. There is no doubt that the perceived mishandling of Phase 1 of the flume rehab had an effect on the 2014 municipal election.

However, the first phase was done, and financing and management aside, it was a hit. The widened river created a swimming hole right downtown, and was quickly dubbed Lake McRae. With the addition of the timber-frame bridge, it has become an idyllic spot on a hot summer day.

But on to phase 2. The grant money finally arrived, though it was not retroactive and the city was on the hook for the full cost of phase 1. New Mayor Don McCormick, who was a councillor during phase 1 construction, vowed that, grant money or not, if the project could not be brought in on budget, it would not proceed.

Two weeks ago, Council voted six to one (Councillor Bev Middlebrook the dissenting vote) to defer the project until such time as there was sufficient grant money and a budget that could be met. The grants could be returned and re-applied for, was the thought.

But now, two weeks later, that decision is reversed and Council has voted to proceed with the flume this year. The contractor had come up with savings and it could meet budget.

That was the difference, the Mayor said. There were still risks but the project had to be done and it wasn’t going to get any cheaper down the road.

Mayor McCormick said when asked about the grants that the City had not received a “definitive decision” from upper levels of government on what would happen if the grant money was returned. Probably because the government, like myself, was gob-smacked at the idea of a municipality returning a grant.

But I’m just going to spit ball here and say that I doubt the good folks at the Building Canada Fund were too keen on taking the money back with the promise that they would be happy to lend the same amount, or even more, when it was more convenient for the city. Not to mention the fact that with a federal election looming in the fall, there is no guarantee the same government will be overseeing said funds.

In any event, here we are. The flume rehab is going ahead, and I’m going to put it out there that I think it’s the right decision. Aesthetics aside, it is a safety issue. For those who scoff at the notion of building it to a 200 year flood event standard, just remember people canoeing through downtown Calgary two years ago. It can happen. It did happen.

For Mayor and Council, it’s not an easy thing to walk back a decision taken so firmly, so recently. They will get flack over it, and maybe rightly so. But I appreciate the fact that there was a willingness to change course. I appreciate the fact that there does not appear to be a lot of ego involved, or if there is, it was pretty well hidden.

So we’re going ahead. Perhaps if phase 2 involves another widening of the channel for a pool we can call it Lake McCormick. We’ll see which one is deeper in the end.

Carolyn Grant is the Editor of the Kimberley Daily Bulletin