Barry Penner open to early warning system 

Environment Minister will look at cost of installing hydrometric monitoring

Environment Minister Barry Penner is open to helping put a landslide warning system in the upper Lillooet River area, but there are no commitments as of yet.

Penner met with officials from the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) last week, one of approximately 60 meetings he attended at the annual convention of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities at the Whistler Conference Centre.

Speaking to Pique before the premier's address last Friday, Penner said his ministry will look at what it would cost to install a hydrometric monitoring station upstream of Pemberton on the Lillooet River.

"I think the (SLRD) made a strong argument for having additional monitoring of stream flows, so we are going to look at that, but obviously it comes with cost," he said.

"Obviously we're always trying to be careful with how we spend taxpayers' money, considering we're in a deficit now, and we want to balance our budget, but we will take a look at what we can do."

Attendees at the meeting included SLRD Board Chair Russ Oakley, Electoral Area C Director Susie Gimse, Administrator Paul Edgington and Pemberton Mayor and Director Jordan Sturdy.

They met Penner in reaction to various natural events that took place throughout the summer. Chief among them was the Meager landslide on Aug. 6, the second biggest in Canadian history. It ran down Capricorn Creek and made a natural dam at its confluence with Meager Creek.

Officials have since stepped up their demands for a monitoring system that could include a river gauge, which would tell them about sudden drops in water levels, one of the surest signs that a landslide has taken place.

They also talked about a debris blockage that occurred on the Birkenhead River over the summer. From May through August the Mount Currie Indian Reserve east of Pemberton was subject to flooding due to logs and debris that piled up in the river, diverting its course right into the community.

The SLRD was initially told that flood mitigation was its own responsibility, a surprise to the district because they thought it was in the purview of the provincial government. The SLRD shared the $86,000 cost of clearing the logs with the Mount Currie Band and the Pemberton Valley Dyking District.

Gimse said in an interview that Penner provided some clarity as to the Ministry of Environment's role when it comes to emergencies.

"I guess the important message that he delivered to us was that the Ministry of Environment's role is more of a regulatory nature," she said. "They're not a responding agency in events such as the landslide and other types of issues related to accumulation of debris and rivers."

Gimse went on to say that SLRD officials pressed hard for more cross-ministry co-operation when it comes to emergency management in the Sea to Sky region, and Penner agreed.

When debris piled up in the Birkenhead the regional district found itself undergoing "quite an effort" to coordinate all the approving authorities to address the situation. That included speaking to the Solicitor-General's office as well as the Ministry of Environment.

"That highlighted an area where improvement could occur," Gimse said. "There were so many agencies and ministries involved. It really did point to the fact there is a lack of strategy there."

Oakley, who doubles as Director for Electoral Area A, agreed. He said in an interview that emergency authorities were staging out of Squamish during the Aug. 6 landslide. He added it would have been more useful for them to operate out of Pemberton.

"We're not blaming anybody," he said. "We're just saying that we need to move as quickly as we can to get ourselves better coordinated and have more warning."



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