Town not out of woods just yet
Given a well-executed plan, along with hard-working staff and volunteers, Fort Frances Fire Chief Frank Sheppard told council Monday night that the town is well-protected should water levels continue to rise.
“From my perspective, I’d like to suggest we’re not out of the woods yet,” Chief Sheppard said.
Upon evaluating the safety of residents, protection of critical infrastructure, and preservation of property, he reiterated the town is in good shape.
“From a safety perspective, I would suggest to you that the residents of this community are very safe,” Chief Sheppard stressed.
“There has been no loss of life, although there has been one significant injury within the context of the emergency period,” he noted.
“Fortunately, there has been nothing beyond that and we have had a lot of people doing an awful lot of things through the course of the week,” Chief Sheppard continued.
“Really, it’s a credit to all the people who were involved and the way that circumstances were managed.
“I think we can suggest to ourselves that personal protection and the collective safety aspect in this town has been well-managed by all people involved,” Chief Sheppard told council.
He noted employees worked “extremely diligently” to ensure the protection of critical infrastructure such as the sewage treatment plant, which showed some concern early on.
“The people from that organization and also Doug Brown and his crews . . . set an example for how things should be done when you are under pressure,” Chief Sheppard said.
“I can’t say enough about the level of co-operation we had here, and the level of performance that was put out by plant operators and the works operators to be very effective in managing all of the critical infrastructure and ensuring that it was safe.”
Chief Sheppard also noted there was no power interruption throughout the process.
“I think that speaks to the amount of planning and work that was done by the Fort Frances Power Corp. and ensuring that systems were stable,” he explained.
He did noted there was one little power bump Friday night, but it didn’t last very long and had zero impact on any of the system here.
Chief Sheppard added even road and transportation routes hardly were impacted by the flood threat.
“We had some areas where there were problems are far as the road being covered in water,” he conceded.
“I think that was partially to do with the messaging that we got out through our communication process that allowed an awful lot of sump water to be diverted out on the streets instead of being pumped into our sanitary system, which would have probably stressed it to a level that would not have been very good or healthy for the system itself.
“So from a critical infrastructure standpoint, again we had a real strong protection mechanism in place,” Chief Sheppard stressed.
“There was an awful lot of planning that went into it and there’s probably going to be some adjustment based on the evaluation of it.
“It was a good example of what planning can do for you if it’s done effectively.”
As for the preservation of property, Chief Sheppard ensured the riverfront is well-protected.
“If the water does come up over top of the banks, there might be a little bit of impact to some of the grass and trees around the actual primer area of the waterfront, but it’s minimal impact,” he explained.
He indicated there was a lot of discussion and decision-making related to whether or not a full-scale berm was necessary.
“Looking at it from this moment, I think it was the right decision not to put that in,” Chief Sheppard told council.
“We probably could have put it in quicker, but the disruption and damage would have been much higher.
“We wouldn’t have been able to clean it up as effectively.”
Chief Sheppard conceded they still will have a clean-up and recovery mode, but believes it will be a rather seamless process.
“I’m still fairly optimistic that we’re not going to see water touch very many of those sandbags,” he remarked.
“And really if that does [happen], I’m quite prepared for people to be critical of the fact that we laid them out there.
“If I was asked to make the choice again, I would make the very same choice,” he said. “We needed to put those out.
“We’re not getting information or data that gave me any level of confidence that it would not come up quite significantly more than it has.”
Chief Sheppard also indicated he’s “not completely certain we’re out of the woods” yet.
“If we have a number of big weather events occurring in the future, we could be looking to use these bags, and possibly reinforcing them if that becomes the case,” he said, adding they have contingency plans in place to manage that eventuality should it occur.
However, Chief Sheppard noted it’s the Point Park that has taken the brunt of the erosion damage.
“There has been significant remediation started and really the remediation is necessary because, should we get a wind event on Sand Bay, we could expect significant damage to the Park area,” he warned.
“From an erosion standpoint that would be one thing,” he added. “But my greatest fear would be impact to the rail bed.
“Which should that get into a situation of wash away or collapse, [that] not only disrupts a major transportation route but it also puts people here in significant level of risk because there is a large amount of dangerous goods that go across that bridge on a daily basis,” he explained.
“So the work that we’re doing there is critically important to complete,” he stressed, adding he believes they have a very solid plan for remediation.
“And I think we’re going to beat it with a relatively high degree of confidence.”
As for private property, Chief Sheppard said they made sandbags available to residents who required protection of their property—and even offered assistance to some individuals.
“But largely the responsibility for private property is on the individuals that own it,” he remarked.
“We’re in a position where I believe a vast majority of the properties will come through this unscathed,” he added.
With Fort Frances as secure as possible at this point, Chief Sheppard said crews now are off to help neighbouring communities.
“We will keep re-evaluating and deciding if we have to do anything more significant, but I believe the plan that is in place is a very solid one,” he noted.
“Failing a major weather event that could always happen . . . I think we’re in pretty good shape.”
On a personal note, Chief Sheppard thanked the community and all the volunteers for their hard work.
“I’ve been to a point of being absolutely overwhelmed with the community spirit and generosity that I’ve seen from this community,” he enthused.
“There was an incredible level of participation from volunteers here.
“I think it goes without saying that we wouldn’t be successful without the people who came out here.”
Mayor Roy Avis also thanked the emergency management team, the employees, and the volunteers who worked so hard to protect the community.
“We’ve gone through some real tough times in this community in the last 12 months and the community spirit was there when we needed it,” he lauded.
Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig praised the emergency management team, as well, clarifying that it’s not just town employees who make up the committee.
He noted a lot of other community groups sit at the table, such as the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board, OPP, the hospital, school boards, Victims Services, Couchiching First Nation—to name just a few.
“All of these groups have something to ponder and something to prepare for,” McCaig said.
“In all my years convening that group, I have never seen a response like that.
“The table was full all the time,” he noted, adding they’ve been meeting at night and on weekend.
“It was really good to see,” McCaig said.
“All the other entities in town that would have a role in this are at the table and actively preparing, so the community should take some solace in that fact that all these other groups are in place and ready to respond.
“And they’ve done a lot of work.”
In related news, Patrick Briere, the town’s public information officer, noted Monday that the 5-Mile Dock is submerged and appears to have sustained some damage.
“Because of these observations, we have been advised to tell the public that the 5-Mile Dock has been closed until further notice,” he noted.
The dock and boat launch were to be barricaded yesterday to ensure the safety of the public.
“Until the waters recede and officials can determine the damages to the dock, it has been deemed as unsafe,” Briere said.