Officials remind Calgarians to steer clear of Harvie Passage to avoid safety risk

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WATCH ABOVE: Big design plans underway for the Harvie Passage. The waterway was badly damaged in the floods of 2013. Now, the province is collaborating with others to make it even safer. Tracy Nagai reports – Apr 16, 2016

CALGARY – As the weather warms up, the Calgary Fire Department is reminding boaters and rafters to stay clear of Harvie Passage in the Bow River.

For a third year, safety booms are being installed to restrict access to the waterway that was damaged in the 2013 floods.

Staff from Alberta Environment and from the Calgary Fire Department will be out this weekend installing three seasonal safety booms.

One boom will be near the CP Rail Bridge and two others will be closer to the passage. They will span the entire width of the waterway.

Just a year after opening, following a $17 million revamp of the waterway, Harvie Passage was severely damaged by the 2013 floods. The stretch of river was changed drastically and has been closed ever since.

“The entire space across that was rendered inaccessible, so it became a significant risk to all boaters, which is why it remains closed,” said Jamie Hanlon from Alberta Environment and Parks.

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First responders hope the booms will make the danger obvious.

“Harvie passage is closed and it is imperative that people know that and portage around it,”said Carole Henke with the Calgary Fire Department.

The waterway also has a troubling past. Before the Harvie Passage got its name, it was called ‘the weir’ and claimed more than a dozen lives.

READ MORE: Harvie Passage victim identified; tried to save fellow rafter

“It was nicknamed the ‘drowning machine’, and unfortunately we lost people who did not portage around it and ended up getting sucked into the weir,” said Henke.

It was once a training ground for athletes and a place for kayakers and paddlers. There were big plans initially for the short-lived Harvie Passage that was opened in 2012.

“We used it a lot for teaching and held a couple of events for slalom races. It was a great place for people to go down and hang out by the river,” said Mike Holroyd from Alberta Slalom Canoe Kayak.

Despite the upgrades, the Harvie Passage wasn’t perfect either.

Rafters, unaware of the danger, would often try to make their way through the man-made rapids. Some cases proved to be fatal.

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The waterway is not recommended for beginners, so the province of Alberta is now collaborating with those interested in using the Harvie Passage to come up with a better design.

“They’re going to go in and change a bunch of stuff,” said Holroyd. “The left channel –  they’re going to change the waves to make them a little more friendly. And the right channel  will be a whole new channel because the old channel was completely filled in.”

READ MORE: New safety plan for Harvie Passage upsets paddling groups

The boom will remain out for the next few years. The new and improved Harvie Passage is set to tentatively reopen in 2018.

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