Province steps in to help mitigate slide threat 

Gravel removal a first step to deal with Fitzsimmons land slump

The provincial government is stepping in to see what can be done to protect Whistler from a potential landslide on Fitzsimmons Creek.

This week the province started a program of gravel removal from the creek near the skateboard park, off day-skier parking lot three.

At least 20 million cubic metres of gravel will be taken out of the creek, at a minimum cost of $210,000. That’s double the gravel removal that is done by the municipality each year as part of its flood protection measures.

"They have indicated quite clearly that this is in response to the concerns raised by the municipality about the Fitz slump," said Brian Barnett, general manager of engineering and public works.

"This is something that can be done quickly and it is at least a start in terms of the management of it."

For decades the resort has lived under the shadow of a potential slide from an area on Whistler Mountain that is roughly the size of seven football fields, 35 metres thick with rock and soil. It is about 2.5 kilometres above the town.

The slump has been moving steadily over the last few years. Since last November it has moved another metre.

The fear is that a landslide could come down into Fitzsimmons creek and dam it. Pressure would build behind the temporary dam until it burst, releasing up to one million cubic metres of earth and debris into the transit bus-loop area and the day-skier parking lots between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.

Last spring the province decided to investigate the slump and all the reports done on the natural hazard to date.

That report, and reports done by the municipality over the years, will be studied and discussed at a meeting between provincial experts and staff, and municipal experts and staff in the coming weeks.

"The municipality’s view is that this is very positive because the provincial government is becoming more involved in the management of the Fitz slump through these discussions," said Barnett.

"The province is looking at long term solutions and managing the slump and that is a very positive situation for the municipality.

"Previous to this the government had not been involved in the discussions. It didn’t seem to recognize this as a priority for them and now they are fully engaged… They want to address any hazard that may exist there."

It is still unclear who would be responsible for paying for any remediation work. The municipality argues that the province is responsible since the slump is on Crown land.

However, it is also within municipal boundaries.

Barnett said the situation is somewhat similar to a government being responsible for highways even though they go through municipal boundaries.

There are two main options on the table. One is to alter the creek’s flow into a nearby natural diversion, the other is to build a debris basin below the slump.

Barnett said there are concerns about the stability of the slopes around the diversion so more geotechnical assessments need to be done before any plan is adopted.

No one from the Solicitor General’s ministry was available to comment.

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