Squamish Nation homes face flood danger 

More than $60 million estimated for dike construction project

click to enlarge PHOTO BY FRANK BAUMANN - DIKING DILEMA The Squamish Nation homes at the top of this photo, taken during a 2009 high-water event, are in an area with no flood protecting.
  • DIKING DILEMA The Squamish Nation homes at the top of this photo, taken during a 2009 high-water event, are in an area with no flood protecting.

For more than 40 years, Shirley Lewis has lived with the constant fear that her home will be destroyed by flood.

Lewis lives in one of 23 homes built on the Cheakamus Reserve, where the Cheekye River flows into the Cheakamus River in Squamish, and this week when heavy rainfall warnings were issued for Squamish Lewis kept a close eye on the river levels near her home.

According to engineer Frank Baumann, Lewis and her neighbours have no flood protection. The Squamish-based engineering consultant wrote in a report to the Squamish Nation that floods have damaged the Cheakamus area three times since 1986 and more damage can be expected if action isn't taken.

In an interview from her home, Lewis recalled the most dramatic flood event of her life, when the Cheakamus River Bridge was swept away by raging Cheekye and Cheakamus waters.

"The scary part was the water going over the bridge and the emergency crew getting us to walk across, but I didn't walk across," Lewis remembered from a flood in the early 1980s. "My dad was carrying my two nephews and they were, like, three and four (years old) and then I was going to go behind him."

The fast moving water was up to her father's knees, said Lewis, and as soon as he got to the other side of the bridge with the two children the bridge let go and was washed downstream.

"They ended up sending helicopters in to get us out," said Lewis.

Baumann is worried that kind of scene will repeat at some point in the future if flood protection measures aren't put in place to better protect the Cheakamus Reserve.

"In my opinion, this is completely unacceptable, especially compared to virtually all other residents of Squamish, who are protected from floods expected to occur on average every 200 years," Baumann wrote in the flood protection report he prepared for the Squamish Nation.

Lewis said Squamish Nation Councillor Dale Harry has tried to find funding to improve the dike system, but a request for capital funding put to the Squamish Nation Band Council was passed over.

At times, she said, her neighbours have talked about breaking away from the Squamish Nation.

"How can you run a nation with 14 councillors in Vancouver and only two up here? That's misrepresentation, I think," Lewis said. "We get forgotten."

According to Lewis, the federal and provincial governments should work with the Squamish Nation to protect the Cheakamus Reserve from future flood threats.

Randall Lewis, the Squamish Nation environmental coordinator, said the cost of building the much-needed dike was estimated at $10 to $12 million in 2000. At today's costs, he said the bill might be as high as $60 million and possibly up to $70 million.

MP John Weston said he wasn't aware of a need for flood protection at the Cheakamus Reserve so he contacted Coun. Harry to ask for more information.

"Whenever I have been approached for something in the riding I'm always grateful for the knowledge and then I go and help the applicant the best that can be done," said Weston.

Coun. Harry referred questions on the lack of flood protection at the Cheakamus Reserve to the Nation's communications department and as of the Pique's deadline there was no response from the Squamish Nation regarding this issue.

In a statement from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), the federal department said that during times of emergency, departmental officials work closely with Emergency Management BC, the First Nations Emergency Services Society and affected First Nations to make sure First Nation communities are supported and know where to seek assistance.

AANDC provided the Squamish Nation with $24,000 in 1996 and $98,300 in 2001 for Cheakamus River flood and erosion project design work. A communications department member with AANDC reported that the federal department hasn't received any formal applications to build flood control devices in the area since the design money was provided.

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