Pemberton residents call on CN Rail to fix flood problems 

Railway willing to discuss its 'small part' in matter


It rains on the plains in... Pemberton?

That's certainly the case in one part of town, where a deluge courtesy of last week's Pineapple Express flooded an estimated 160 acres of land adjacent to properties along Prospect Street and Collins Road.

Last week's rains weren't quite at the level of 2003, when 200 to 350 millimetres of rain pounded the region but they nevertheless turned a Pemberton flood plain into a temporary lake - and it isn't the first time.

The plain is bordered on one side by a hill where Pemberton's Benchlands neighbourhood is located and on the other by a CN Rail line that sits atop a dyke.

On its two remaining sides are approximately 20 to 30 farm properties with addresses on Prospect Street and Collins Road. One of them belongs to Bob Menzel, the oft-quoted rancher whose grazing areas have become so flooded a horse has drowned.

On the morning of Nov. 17, the plain again became a temporary pool for reluctant livestock. Horses were seen up to their knees in water and the grazing areas at Menzel's property were completely submerged, with fence posts treading water above the surface.

The problem, according to some local residents, is that the CN Rail dyke doesn't allow the slough to drain.

The dyke straddles the plain as you walk north along the rails. The drainage system consists of three culverts that feed water out of the slough and into an arm of Pemberton Creek. The dyke and culverts were placed there in the late 1970s by BC Rail to replace a trestle that used to prop up the railway along the plain before it was consumed in a fire.

Back then the water could traverse out of the plain and into the creek. Now there are only the three culverts and residents don't feel it's enough.

"This was their fix, which was obviously not a fix," said Stuart Donald, who owns a home on Collins Road that nearly had its basement flooded.

The culverts alone aren't a problem; also at issue are beavers that have moved into the area and have been observed floating big pieces of wood into the drains and plugging them up. CN Rail has dealt with that problem by installing grates, called "beaver deceivers," to keep the culverts from getting plugged. But the flooding problem persists.

Nigel Protter, also a property owner on Collins Road, feels the culverts sitting there today aren't enough to get the water out.

"The fundamental problem is the water doesn't flow out of there fast enough in extreme events," he said. "During an extreme event, it can easily be plugged because lots of debris moves through there... they weren't engineered properly.

"In a university lab, they might be able to handle that volume of water, but (they're) clearly not engineered for the real world. That's the issue."

Protter said the floods can have a big impact on agriculture around the slough. A heavy volume of water can kill grass and make it difficult to grow in the spring. The flooding also makes it tough to grow crops like blueberries and cranberries.

The slough falls within the Agricultural Land Reserve, but Protter feels there isn't enough stormwater or floodwater management to maintain it as farmland.

"It floods so much you don't want to improve it," he said. "Fences get wrecked, any feed you've stockpiled - like hay - gets wrecked, you know, animals get stranded and drown and things like that, things float away."

Kelli Svendsen, a spokeswoman for CN Rail, said the dyke is less of a cause for flooding than residents are making it out to be.

"What is important to note is that the railway grade was not built as a dyke," she said. "BC Rail didn't create a floodplain, so this issue comes up every few years when there's a big rainfall... I think if there was any change done, there would be serious downstream flooding to other properties."

Svendsen did say, however, that CN would be willing to discuss the issue with the Village of Pemberton and have a conversation about its "small part" in it.



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