Fort McMurray plans to build up flood defences

Fort McMurray is in the early stages of a flood prevention plan that could see much of the town site surrounded by a fortress of flood walls.

'We have been studying this issue for quite some time,' says project manager

In 2013, a flood inundated downtown Fort McMurray. The city is now in the pre-design phase of a new flood mitigation plan.

Fort McMurray is in the early stages of a flood prevention plan that could see much of the town site surrounded by a fortress of flood walls.

Downtown Fort McMurray sits at the point where the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers meet and has a history of flooding.

City engineers presented their flood mitigation plan at Tuesday's municipal council meeting.

In 1977, an ice jam inundated the city with floodwater, and in 2013, a flood washed out streets downtown and in the subdivision of Waterways.

Waterways was also one of the hardest hit communities during the 2016 wildfire, with the flames wiping out 239 structures.

As a condition for receiving future provincial flood relief funding, the subdivision needs to comply with new development codes for communities that sit on floodplains.

The municipality proposes to build its flood walls and berms half a metre above the 250-metre elevation recommended by the province. (Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo)

"We have been studying this issue for quite some time," Wood Buffalo municipal project manager Maureen Nakonechny said. "As many of you know, the lower downtown site has flooded many times."

'The ice will do what the ice wants to do'

The proposal the Wood Buffalo municipality's engineering department presented to council would see a 10-kilometre stretch of flood mitigation walls and berms constructed along the edge of the downtown core to the Waterways neighbourhood.

Nakonechny estimates it could take 3-5 years to complete the project at a cost of $153 million. The project manager warned those costs could change.

The municipality intends to conduct public consultations before proceeding with the plan.

Coun. Phil Meagher expressed doubts about whether the project would work, given the power of river ice breakups.

Torrential downpours flooded areas of Fort McMurray in 2016. It prompted the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to open its emergency operations centre. (Derek Walker/Facebook)

"All I can say is the ice will do what the ice wants to do," Meagher said.

Nakonechny replied to the councillor's comment saying no flood wall or berm will completely eliminate the risk of flooding, but it would certainly minimize the risk.

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on Facebook and Twitter, email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca

About the Author

David Thurton

David Thurton is CBC's mobile journalist in Fort McMurray. He's worked for CBC in the Maritimes & in Canada's Arctic. Email: david.thurton@cbc.ca