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Municipality reassessed how to better prepare for river breakup to avoid repeat of 2020 flood: Mayor Scott

The Keyano College campus in downtown Fort McMurray is shown on Tuesday, April 28, 2020 after a massive ice jam caused flooding and forced about 13,000 people out of their homes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Greg Halinda

FORT MCMURRAY (660 NEWS) – The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is taking steps to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.

The upcoming river breakup was discussed during a one-hour town hall Thursday night that residents were able to participate in by phone or online. Mayor Don Scott and Director of Emergency Management Scott Davis were among those on hand to field questions from residents.

Ice melting from the Athabasca, Clearwater, and Christina Rivers in the Spring months leads to an increased risk of flooding. Last year, the river breakup forced the evacuation of thousands of citizens and half a billion dollars in damage was done. Mayor Scott said it forced the municipality to reassess how to better prepare for river breakup.

“A lot of work and resources have gone into getting ready for this year,” Scott said during his opening remarks on Thursday’s town hall. “Ten million dollars has been invested for preparedness, in addition to the ongoing flood mitigation projects. Approximately two-thirds of that investment is for work on the surface like temporary clay berms and triple dams. The remaining is for underground work like plugs, pumps, watertight manhole covers, and other improvements.”

Scott said much of what the municipality has purchased can be re-used in the future, including the clay from temporary berms, the triple dams, and any unused sandbag materials.

“We’ll have over 100 staff and contractors on standby, ensuring our preparedness and that we are ready to respond depending on conditions,” Scott said, adding there will be 75 pumps with a total pumping capacity of 5,600 litres per second, 11.5 kilometres of hose, 65 plugs in the underground system, and 40 new watertight manhole covers.

Scott urged residents to get ready for the river breakup by downloading three smartphone apps: Alertable, Alberta Emergency Alerts, and Alberta Rivers. He said residents should take protective steps to prepare properties close to the river.

“The issue that happened last year should never happen again to this community and I think the measures that we are taking are going to be a strong step in that direction,” Scott said.

More information on how to prepare for this year’s river breakup can be found HERE.

Meantime, the municipality says it has been in contact with the majority of Ptarmigan Court residents in regard to buyouts. The area was hit hard by last Spring’s flood and temporary barriers will be placed in the area in anticipation of this year’s river breakup.

In December, council approved a plan to offer homeowners a voluntary buyout or a chance to raise their properties as according to the municipality, installing a permanent berm in the area isn’t feasible.

“Council has since directed that $15 million be allocated from the Emerging Issues Reserve for the voluntary buyout payments and raising homes for Ptarmigan Court,” reads an email provided to 660 NEWS by Greg Bennett RMWB Strategist, Communications. In February, the Government of Alberta committed up to $11 million to support the relocation of Ptarmigan court residents.

As of March 4, 38 owners had confirmed interest in a buyout, while eight declined. Three homeowners are interested in raising their properties and two would prefer the status quo. Those who remain undecided have until May 31 to pick an option. Buyouts are being offered based on 2020 assessed property values.

Further details can be found HERE.