Repair work continues at Commotion Creek, one of five washouts of Highway 97 north of Prince George.

BC VIEWS: Heavy weather events aren’t new

Premier Christy Clark exploits another natural disaster, this time the latest flood damage to northeast B.C.

Premier Christy Clark flew up to Dawson Creek for the second time in a month on June 19, to survey the damage from a storm that dumped 130 mm of rain on the region in two days.

At Chetwynd, where Highway 97 emerges from the Pine Pass through the Rocky Mountains, the highway was severely damaged after water poured under and across it in the middle of town. The CN Rail tracks and adjacent roads were washed out.

In Dawson Creek, large culverts under the main street were plugged by debris, sending water over the road and generating a much-viewed video of a white car precariously perched on the edge as the torrent surrounded it.

“Floods happen,” Clark told CTV News. “But not floods like this.”

The CTV report, filed from Vancouver with dramatic video to show the worst in Dawson Creek, agreed with the premier’s line: “The Peace region last rebuilt from significant flooding in 2011, but the damage was much worse in this latest case.”

Wrong.

The same day, the Alaska Highway News quoted Maria Butts, Peace Region district manager for the Ministry of Transportation, on the situation. She noted that Highway 97 was washed out in at least five places.

“This was a very powerful storm, quite uncommon … but the assessment of damage does not appear to be as extensive as it was in 2011,” Butts said.

That’s consistent with my own news reports in the wake of the 2011 storm. Again, it dropped about 130 mm on the Pine Pass in late June.

In that event, a 64-km stretch of the highway between Prince George and Chetwynd was washed out or damaged in 77 places. Repairs continued into the fall.

Northwestern B.C. received even more rain, with damage to four bridges, 10 large culverts and more than 20 km of roads in the Bulkley-Stikine highways district.

I drove up the Trans-Canada Highway in the immediate aftermath of the 2011 storm, which had affected most of the province to some degree. The divided highway east of Chilliwack had just re-opened after a mudslide poured across it, trapping one vehicle whose passengers escaped unharmed.

I drove that route again last week, with only a sprinkle of rain here and there. Every time I pass the large pump station coming into Hope, I’m reminded of the summer of 1983, when I worked at my first reporting job there.

Summer in Hope got off to an exciting start when torrential rains washed out the Trans-Canada Highway west of town. Again, it was in June.

I had to walk along the closed highway for about a kilometre to get pictures of the huge cut in the divided highway roadbed, and the stretch of CP Rail tracks left hanging in the air after water removed the railbed below.

Mother Nature wasn’t done with the Fraser Canyon in 1983. That fall, having returned to Vancouver to resume journalism school at Langara College, I turned on BCTV news one evening to see the effect of heavy rains on a little motel with cabins along the bank of Silverhope Creek.

The old cabin I had stayed in that summer was gone, and the one next to it was badly undercut and about to fall in after the swollen creek had shifted its course.

Heavy weather wasn’t a political issue in those days. “Climate change” hadn’t been invented, so there was no motivation for politicians to rush to the scene and pronounce each disaster the worst one ever.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

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