Harvie Passage made safer, while some have big plans

Three years after the flood that swept across southern Alberta, the Harvie Passage in the Bow River remains unsafe and in need of repairs and some argue, development.

Calgary Fire Department helped add safety booms to the river Saturday to alert users to the danger

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra says now is the time to talk about Harvie Passage's future potential. (Kate Adach/CBC)

Three years after the flood that swept across southern Alberta, the Harvie Passage in the Bow River remains unsafe and in need of repairs and some argue, development.

And while the Calgary Fire Department helped rope it off with safety barriers, or booms, to get the safety message across, some say now it the time to talk future development.

For those who want to see the river transformed into a recreation facility, they say this is the perfect time to float some more ideas.

Chuck Lee is with the Alberta Whitewater Association.

Chuck Lee is an avid whitewater adventurer. He sees huge potential for development at the Harvie Passage on the Bow River downstream from the Zoo. (Kate Adach/CBC)

He says delays in fixing the Harvie Passage, which was significantly damaged in the 2013 floods, are nothing more than a rough patch to ride through.

"It's disappointing, but it's good to get it right," Lee said.

Lee has spent more than a decade working on designing the passage with what he calls the Harvie Passage Alliance, only to have it destroyed in the flood a year after it opened.

World-class attraction?

The design was meant to make a treacherous stretch safe for users of the Bow River.

"So that it becomes a world-class attraction," Lee said was the goal.

Now he's buoyed by the notion that the passage wasn't really ready anyway.

"Where do people change? Where do I go to the bathroom? If I'm a kayaker, there is no facility here for me to change, I've got to change my clothes in the parking lot beside the picnickers and the families and it's really not a great mix," he said.

Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra says now is the time to talk redesign.

Calgary Fire Department helped add safety booms to a section of the Bow River to prevent users from reaching the potentially dangerous Harvie Passage on Saturday. (Kate Adach/CBC)

"The timing is perfect," Carra said.

"Do we expect everyone who comes and paddles to come with a big pickup truck and their paddle and their kayak and their boat?" he asks.

"Or do we create Kiss-and-Rides or do we create some kind of boat storage as part of the facility program? I think this is the time to have those conversations."

Those conversations will be had, Carra says, in this summer's Bend in the Bow meetings on the area's redevelopment.

Deadly history

The passage can be deadly if people aren't aware of the risks.

Before it opened in 2012, at least a dozen people died from the weir's impassable, recirculating wave over the last three decades.

That has the Calgary Fire Department reminding river users of the dangers.

"Anywhere there is water, there is risk," says spokesperson Carol Henke.

Calgary Fire Department spokesperson Carol Henke says it's important to know the rules of the water before getting near Harvie Passage. (Kate Adach/CBC)

"We want people to enjoy the water and safely. Make sure you are wearing a life jacket or personal flotation device."

She says, whatever development of the passage is down the road, users need to know where they can safely exit the river and return to it after the weir.

The province says it could take two more years before the passage is repaired.

Some say it's time to talk about the future of Harvie Passage. (Kate Adach/CBC)

"The Harvie Passage is tentatively scheduled to be re-opened in May 2018," said Alberta Environment and Parks spokesperson Jamie Hanlon.

"We continue to consult with stakeholders and will inform the public prior to the construction phase."

As to cost, Lee says the passage could be viewed as any other recreational facility in the city.

"How much money do we put into the arenas, the swimming pools … there's a lot of money that goes into other recreational amenities, this is a recreational amenity," Lee said.

With files from Kate Adach


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