B.C. floods: Abbotsford drops controversial levee plan, will repair dike breaches instead

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B.C. floods: Abbotsford drops levee plan
The City of Abbotsford abruptly changed course, Friday, dropping plans to build a levee that would have left 22 homes under water while the Sumas Prairie dries out. Rumina Daya reports – Nov 19, 2021

The City of Abbotsford, B.C., is no longer considering a controversial proposal to build a levee that would have forced some residents from their homes, but helped contain risk from a significant dike breach.

Mayor Henry Braun said in a Friday update that idea has been abandoned, and the city will build a temporary replacement for the dike instead.

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B.C. floods: Abbotsford mayor says levee construction will not go-ahead

“Those properties — there will be no additional impact to them, beyond what they have been impacted by the water,” he told reporters.

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“The conditions on the ground have changed. The water has equalized on both sides so we don’t have water pouring into the bowl.”

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The entire province remained under a state of emergency Friday, as did a large area of Abbotsford, which was drenched by two days of torrential rain and evacuated earlier this week.

While floodwaters receded in some parts of the city, they continued to rise in the Sumas Prairie due to inundations from flooding in Washington state’s Nooksack River.

Two dike breaches erupted to the southwest and northeast near Highway 1, leading the city to propose a 2.5-kilometre levee to prevent water from flowing from the Sumas River area across the freeway and into the low ground of the prairie.

An estimated 22 homes would have been affected.

“Of the 22 properties, we have talked to 19 of them last night and this morning,” said Braun. “I know some people criticized us because they were caught unaware. That was probably my fault.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. floods: Abbotsford mayor says military is on the ground in the city'
B.C. floods: Abbotsford mayor says military is on the ground in the city

Braun promised that the temporary replacement and repair for the most concerning dike breach will be in place by Tuesday, when an estimated 80 to 100 millimetres of rain is expected.

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“I have every confidence that you will see this plan, come Tuesday morning, complete.”

The city is now sourcing out engineers to begin work on the second dike breach, he added.

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Evacuation orders have been lifted in the Huntingdon neighbourhood and the area west of Sumas Way between the U.S. border to Lonzo Avenue, but evacuation alerts remain in place.

Roughly 680 people are still evacuated from the Sumas Prairie, 340 of whom have accessed support through the evacuation centre at the Tradex Centre, said Braun. More than 60 are expected to sleep there Friday night.

“We know this continues to be a very stressful time for these people and we are working around the clock to get people access to their homes as soon as possible,” he said.

“My heart goes out to the farmers because they want to get out on their land, but we have had no injuries or tragedies that we are aware of as of this moment, and I don’t want to have anyone out there as a victim.”

Click to play video: 'Abbotsford Mayor provides update on flooding devastation'
Abbotsford Mayor provides update on flooding devastation

Evacuation orders are still in effect for the Straighton area and Sumas Prairie.

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A boil-water advisory was issued for the prairie as the city attempts to restore water supply to its distribution system. The advisory was expected to be in place for several days, but water remained safe to drink elsewhere, the city said Thursday.

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Sixty-four members of the Canadian Armed Forces arrived in Abbotsford Thursday night to provide emergency support, and Braun said more are on the way.

The city’s structural and geotechnical engineers, meanwhile, have inspected 10 bridges, dozens of kilometres of road, and many culverts.

“There’s at least 70 of our staff that are tasked with leading us through this. The staff all know who you are, but I want to thank every one of you,” the mayor said.

To date, the floods in B.C. have killed at least one person, displaced many thousands, and destroyed critical infrastructure, including highways. Anyone wishing to donate to relief efforts can do so via the Red Cross website, the United Way BC Flood Response Fund, or verified online GoFundMe campaigns.

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