Town on ‘high alert’ for flooding

Duane Hicks

The Town of Fort Frances and Couchiching First Nation remain on “high alert” as both communities await the full impact of the weekend’s rainfall to be felt.
Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig, who is chair of the local Emergency Management Group, said the team of representatives from various agencies and Couchiching First Nation has ordered that sandbags be readied just in case.
“It can be sunny as heck for the next couple days but we’re waiting to see what the impact of all the water draining in is going to be,” McCaig noted.
“From what I understand with the lake levels, there’s a lag time associated with the water draining from others into Rainy Lake,” he explained.
“We have some elevated areas, as you can see.”
McCaig said sandbags are being prepared as of early this morning.
“Whether we’re going to use them I don’t know,” he admitted. “But we want to have them ready to go on short notice.
“We don’t want to be filling sandbags when we need sandbags,” he stressed.
“We’re going to be proactive; we’re not going to wait for something to happen and then start filling sandbags,” he reiterated.
A total of 58 mm of rain fell here Saturday and Sunday, pushing the already high water levels on Rainy Lake and the Rainy River to an extreme not seen since 1950.
Some reports say the lake has risen 10 inches.
The government dock on Sand Bay was one such casualty of the rising water.
The Fort Frances Fire and Rescue Service and Public Works were on-site Saturday evening to ensure the sections of the dock that were floating were removed from the water and pulled onto shore.
They were aided by winds coming out of the east, which pushed debris into the shoreline of the beach.
The town’s Operations & Facilities division has enlisted a local contractor to assist in ensuring the security or salvage of the remaining dock structure.
“We lost the government dock—that wasn’t unexpected, it was in ill-repair,” noted McCaig.
“But we responded to that to make sure that the pieces aren’t floating out into the lake and a watercraft could hit them,” he said.
McCaig added homes along Idylwild Drive are being monitored. But while the docks are in trouble, the homes are far enough from the water’s edge to be safe for now.
“At the Rendez-Vous, we have some concerns about [the] deck and there’s probably going to be some sandbagging going on there,” McCaig said.
He also understands a number of lakefront Couchiching residents already have been sandbagging.
Residents who have properties along the water should continue to monitor the areas and advise the town of any potential property damage.
Likewise, the watery threat to the sewage treatment plant, which is located on the lower river, will continued to be monitored.
“There’s still quite a bit of area that [the water] would have to travel before we’d be really, really concerned but we’ve identified it as an area of concern,” said McCaig.
“That may have to be sandbagged.”
Sections of the town’s sanitary sewer collection system are operating at maximum capacity.
As well, the sewage treatment plant has had to go into by-pass mode several times over the past few days, meaning it’s had to discharge chlorinated waste water into the Rainy River to relieve stress on the system.
“The number-one priority we’ve had—keeping an eye to what happened in 2002—is to manage our [sewer] system such that it would minimize the impact to our residents,” said McCaig.
“I think we’ve been really effective at that,” he added. “We’ve been proactive . . . we’ve done a lot of bypassing at points at certain points in the town.
“A lot of basements have taken on water but that’s groundwater,” McCaig said.
“It gets to be a pretty bad situation when you’re backing up sewer,” he stressed.
“There has been a few sewer back-ups, but not to the degree we experienced in 2002 because response has been good and we’re right on top, monitoring it.”
The town is continuing to request all water and sewer customers in Fort Frances and Couchiching to keep making sure their sump pumps are not connected to the sanitary sewer system.
They also are asking that residents in both communities continue to manage their water consumption.
McCaig said he doesn’t see the state of emergency being lifted for the foreseeable future, adding some flood-related problems, such as sinkholes and other underground issues, don’t appear until weeks after the fact.
“We need this thing in place because we may be eligible for some funding through the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program,” he noted.
“We’re tracking all our costs.”
McCaig said the thing they’re doing different this time is being proactive—whether it’s preparing sand bags or managing the sewer system.
“We’re seeing some good results with that,” he remarked. “We think that we’re holding our own right now.
“We’ll have to wait see what happens Thursday . . . what the levels look like then,” McCaig conceded.
“But I think we’re doing pretty good right now.”
The town also is reminding the public to stay away from areas where town personnel/emergency services are working, for the safety and security of everyone.
Downstream, the Town of Rainy River declared a state of emergency on Friday.