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Britannia development requires berm construction, dam upgrades

Macdonald Development Corporation talking to province about safety upgrades

Construction of a commercial development in Britannia Beach cannot commence until its proponents reach a deal with the province on some safety upgrades.

Macdonald Development Corporation of Vancouver is currently developing a commercial townsite in Britannia Beach in what is some of the biggest economic activity for the community since a copper mine closed down in 1974.

Many residents there feel the townsite, which will be a pedestrian-oriented village similar to Granville Island with shops, restaurants and promenades, could jumpstart an economic boom for the area.

The townsite is currently at fourth and final reading with the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, as Britannia Beach hasn't been incorporated into a municipality. But before it passes the developers have to work with the province to fix some dams on Britannia Creek and build a berm to protect the lower community against landslides.

Bill Baker, project coordinator for the development at Britannia, told Pique that final approval of the commercial townsite requires repairs to two dams on Britannia Creek and another that requires some structural work.

"There's two dams upstream on Britannia Creek, one is called Tunnel Dam, it's on the high risk list, then there's another dam called Lower Dam, it's a small dam," he said. "Both of those are on Crown land or a mining property, and they have to be, instead of a dam they have to be turned into debris catchment.

"They have to empty all the debris that's in it now so water can go through, and if there was a failure of rock above it, say there was a slide, it would catch debris before it headed down Britannia Creek."

Beyond those repairs, a dam called Middle Dam needs work that would also turn it into a debris catchment.

"So the major part of that is preventative maintenance for a lot of debris up above," Baker said, adding the company is also looking into construction of a berm that would stop debris from entering the community if it came down Britannia Creek or other nearby channels.

"The berm basically protects everything we will build," he said. "Along with helping protect the highway, the railroad and the new bridge, the berm is there to protect against any event that will happen upstream. The berm works in conjunction with the dams being fixed."

Like many communities in Sea to Sky that are located beneath mountains, landslides can pose a risk. In 1915, an estimated 56 people were killed when parts of a mountain gave way and snow and rock came crashing down onto a miners' camp as people slept. Twenty-two others were injured.

For several years the provincial government has kept an eye on an area called the Jane Basin, a valley in the Britannia mountain range where there's a big fault known as the Jane Fault.

Frank Baumann, a geotechnical engineer based out of Squamish, examined the area about 11 years ago.

"I did the very first assessment of the Jane Basin potential rock avalanche in the Britannia Beach watershed about 1990 for the Ministry of Forests in Squamish," said Baumann.

"I concluded that there was a 15-20 million cubic metre unstable and slowly-moving rock mass that could collapse at any time- especially if there was an earthquake."

The rock mass would fill an old mining pit at Jane Basin and likely spill over into the main valley, said Baumann.

But he also determined that it would not impact the Britannia Beach community.

The solution, according to him, would be to monitor movement on a real-time basis and do a formal runout analysis to determine exactly where debris would end up if a slide were to occur.

Baker estimates the cost of repairs at $1 million for the berm; $900,000 to $1 million for Tunnel Dam; and about $250,000 for the remaining two dams.

Paying for the repairs would require an agreement with the province's Ministry of Natural Resource Operations. The two parties haven't yet reached an arrangement on how to pay for all the repairs but they are talking.