The National Capital Commission is facing a repair bill totalling anywhere from $6 to $10 million after the floods that hit Ottawa and Gatineau this spring, the commission’s board of directors heard on Thursday.
Diving inspections and technical and hydraulic studies of the interprovincial Portage Bridge will account for about $4 million of those expenses, staff said at the board’s first public meeting following the major weather event.
Staff also want to start work this summer or fall to better protect the Britannia berm, a project that’s estimated to cost $600,000.
The NCC “obviously” didn’t budget for those costs and the commission is working with the federal government to cover and manage the unforeseen flood expenses, CEO Tobi Nussbaum said.
“We will be cash managing them obviously in the short term, but we have certainly a strong indication that the government recognizes that there will be a need for them to help us out with the costs, which will be spread over the next two years.”
NCC board members received a presentation from staff about which of the NCC’s assets were affected or damaged as the bloated Ottawa River spilled over into the National Capital Region this spring and eroded the shorelines on both sides of the river.
Chief among them are the multi-use pathways that snake along the riverfront, which the NCC is responsible for managing, along with federally-owned lands and buildings in the capital region.
The Ottawa River Pathway on the Ontario side and the Voyageurs Pathway on the Quebec side sustained significant damage in 2017 but rehabilitation work completed over the following year-and-a-half gave the pathways “greater resiliency” and “good protection” against the 2019 floods, according to the NCC.
As proof, Kehoe said staff estimates the process of repairing and reopening the pathways this year will cost $250,000 – compared to $2 million after the 2017 floods.
As for the Portage Bridge, the NCC says the bridge is safe but staff are concerned about the impact of the powerful, rushing water on the piers.
Greg Kehoe, the NCC’s chief engineer, said it’s standard to have divers go down and inspect piers after a flood event but the slow recession of the river after water levels peaked in May has delayed this project.
“We haven’t been able to do that yet because the water are still so fast and still so high,” Kehoe said.
NCC engineers are, however, inspecting both the Portage Bridge and the Champlain Bridge – another interprovincial crossing – weekly, according to the commission.
The Chaudière Bridge, which connects Ottawa and Hull, was closed to all traffic on April 28 due to the height of the river but has since reopened to pedestrians, cyclists and public transit buses. It will remain closed to vehicles and commercial trucks until the end of August.
A comprehensive list of all NCC assets affected during the floods, as well as updates on repairs and closures, is available on the commission’s website.
An NCC spokesperson said the final tally of the 2017 flood expenses came in around $2.5 million but said other rehabilitation projects flowed from that event that led to additional costs.
Some board members argued the NCC should become more “proactive” in how it responds to extreme events, like floods, which have hit the Ottawa-Gatineau area twice in three years now.
“If this is the new state of what we’re going to be seeing, we should also be taking a longer view on how we respond,” Larry Beasley said. “We really need a better response, a design response.”
Riverfront pathways expected to reopen in July
The NCC says it expects to reopen closed areas of the riverfront pathways by the end of the July.
The section of the Ottawa River Pathway around Parliament Hill still needs significant debris clean-up and minor repairs to asphalt, sinkhole and furniture, according to the commission. The NCC expects to reopen this area in mid-July.
(The affected pathway along the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway has reopened but may get closed against temporarily for some outstanding repairs.)
The NCC says it expects to reopen the Voyageurs Pathway between the Portage Bridge and the Canadian Museum of History by the end of July.
Meanwhile, Leamy Lake Park remains closed “until further notice” because the beach is still flooded. Some assets also require decontamination, the NCC says.
Unrelated to the floods, the Portage Bridge is currently undergoing months-long rehabilitation work. Nussbaum said that work is on schedule and expected to wrap up in time for Canada Day.
The City of Ottawa was under a state of emergency for 49 days due to the floods. Mayor Jim Watson lifted the state of emergency, which was declared on April 25, on June 12.