Fire department considers new boom for Harvie Passage

Some local kayakers are unhappy with plans to put a new safety boom in the Bow River.

Fire department hopes to install boom in time for summer

The channels of Harvie Passage are Class 2 and 3 rapids. (Sarah Konsmo/CBC)

Some local kayakers are unhappy with plans to put a new safety boom in the Bow River.

The Calgary fire department is looking to put a new boom in place at Harvie Passage before the summer rafting season begins. One man in his 30s died in the passage last summer after his raft flipped over in the rebuilt weir system.

"We feel that there are areas of Harvie Passage that are more than adequate for experienced and properly equipped paddlers to use at their discretion," says Ken Uzeloc, deputy chief of the Calgary Fire Department's operations and technical teams.

"What we're concerned with is the average recreational rafter that isn't that experienced."

Uzeloc says that the fire department is hoping the boom will deter rafters from continuing down Harvie Passage.

Class 2 and 3 rapids

Harvie Passage is located on the Bow River slightly downstream of the Calgary Zoo.

Its two channels are ranked as Class 2 and 3 rapids and are designed only for trained whitewater kayakers and river rafters.

The city has cautioned that even with the recent redesign, the passage is not for recreational rafters.

"Some people may have the impression that floating through the Harvie Passage is like floating down the Elbow on a sunny day and it just isn't," Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said after last year's death in the passage.

However, some water sport enthusiasts are concerned that the boom may actually endanger the more experienced rafters who choose to use Harvie Passage.

"If they put the boom in place, it becomes a safety hazard, it becomes a liability," says Chuck Lee, executive director of the Alberta Whitewater Association. "The moving water's going to be pushing up against the boom and people are going to be trapped up against it."

Risk levels can vary

Uzeloc says that while he understands the concern, the boom the fire department is looking to use should minimize these risks.

It would have smaller pontoons and would allow people into the portage area if they needed to get through.

Even though the passage is designed as Class 2 and 3 rapids, situations such as the late run-off last summer can mean that the channels risk levels are far higher until water levels normalize.

While experienced paddlers can probably handle those risks, Uzeloc says that overall, it's the inexperienced rafters that the fire department hopes to deter with the boom.

"It's that recreational person who grabs a raft, wants to go out with friends and hops on the river, that we want to make sure they have that opportunity to get out and make an informed decision."

The fire department will need to get approval from Transport Canada before a boom can be put in place.

A boom such as the one for Harvie Passage would cost roughly $200,000.