Municipalities tackle localized flooding - June 29, 2017
BY DENNY SCOTT
Municipalities in the northern end of Huron County had an all-hands-on-deck situation over the weekend as flooding saw dams overwhelmed, roads closed and property damaged.
On June 23, a significant rainfall saw, in some areas, nearly 180 millimetres of precipitation dumped overnight, resulting in floods, dangerously-high river levels and emergency situations and road closures throughout North Huron, Morris-Turnberry, Huron East and the surrounding communities.
Morris-Turnberry Administrator Clerk-Treasurer Nancy Michie explained to The Citizen on Monday that the start of the storm signalled a very busy weekend for the municipality’s staff.
“On June 23, there was significant rainfall in the area,” she said. “Throughout the municipality, we had reports of four-and-a-half to seven inches of rain.”
The first issue the municipality had to deal with was the Gregory Municipal Drain north of Wingham, Michie said.
“There was significant flooding in that area, however, as the day progressed, we were advised by the Maitland Valley Conservation Authority (MVCA) of the possibility of the river rising more than it already had,” Michie said. “The municipality monitored water levels throughout Friday and, around 4 p.m., prepared and sent letters for Lower Town Wingham area of the possibility of flooding and possibility of evacuation.”
As the water levels of the Maitland River rose, Michie said, the municipality was informed that the emergency floodway at the Gorrie Dam failed. The floodway was designed to be breached if water levels were too high for the dam according to Jayne Thompson, Communications Coordinator of the MVCA.
As a result of the news, the municipality set public works employees on a rotation to monitor the municipality’s vulnerable flood areas continually from 5 p.m. on June 23 until 6 p.m. the next day.
At that time, however, bad news continued as the municipality was warned that another storm was predicted. Fortunately, Michie said, that storm didn’t hit the Morris-Turnberry area as had been predicted.
“All during Friday and Saturday, there was continuous communication with the MVCA, Morris-Turnberry Mayor Paul Gowing, municipal public works staff and ratepayers in the affected area.
“We prepared our Emergency Control Centre, but did not call the group together,” Michie said. “We did not feel it was necessary at the time. We had no evacuation and felt the previously-delivered letters were sufficient and the property owners were aware that the area and situation were being monitored. If there was any need for evacuation, property owners would be advised.”
Aside from the letters to the property owners, the municipality posted reports to its website, Twitter account and local radio stations.
On Monday, Michie spent time in communication with the provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs regarding emergency disaster recovery funding. She told The Citizen that damages would be assessed to determine if applications would be available.
The municipality suffered some damage, including erosion on some of the roads, which was handled by public works staff.
As a result of the flooding at the Gregory Municipal Drain, a local nursing home lost an emergency exit. Michie said the municipality’s drainage superintendent was on site to assess the situation.
Anyone with damage to report should contact the municipal office at 519-887-6137. Michie said the municipality will put them in contact with the province or provide a form to report the damage.
North Huron was first made aware of the issues resulting from the rain around noon on June 23. Prior to 1 p.m., the municipality’s staff was involved with a conference call with MVCA representatives regarding the flooding, according to Chief Administrative Officer Sharon Chambers.
As a result, the municipality’s Emergency Control Group met at 1 p.m. on Friday afternoon.
“We were briefed by the MVCA about the extensive rainfall in the area and the potential that the Gorrie Dam could be breeched,” Chambers said in a phone interview with The Citizen on Monday afternoon.
The MVCA provided maps of where the water could reach if the dam failed, and, with that mapping, the group assessed what damage could happen downstream.
“We created a list of properties and property owners who were going to be impacted as to how we were going to notify those individuals,” Chambers said. “The Fire Department of North Huron and Wingham Police were at the table and talked about potential evacuation and how they were going to notify those property owners.”
The group was discussing how to notify property owners when they received word that the emergency spillway at the Gorrie Dam had been breeched.
“We immediately stepped up our efforts to get notification out and opened the evacuation centre at the North Huron Wescast Community Complex,” Chambers said. “We made transportation available for those who needed it.”
Chambers said the evacuation wasn’t mandatory, however those who didn’t evacuate were encouraged to closely monitor the situation.
The Emergency Control Group met several times throughout the day to be debriefed on the situation.
After cordoning off the areas that were near waterways in Wingham, the municipality’s Public Works department was set on a rotating shift throughout the evening keeping refuse from blocking the Howson Dam.
“We wanted to make sure water wasn’t blocked by debris,” Chambers said. “Lights were set up on the dam and the crews were there all night removing debris.”
On Saturday morning, the Emergency Control Group met at 8 a.m. for feedback on what had happened overnight, Chambers said.
The MVCA then said that, while some areas upstream from Wingham like Gorrie, were beginning to see water levels fall, Wingham’s water levels would peak later that day.
Chambers said the situation was monitored throughout the day to make sure that ratepayers had the most up-to-date information and that the peak river height didn’t result in any damage to municipal infrastructure, including the Howson Dam.
Staff’s response to the flood was admirable, Chambers said.
“We were prepared for the worst,” she said. “We didn’t know how much water we were going to be getting downstream. We did our best to notify residents. The team pulled together well to get the notice out to people and Public Works did an excellent job monitoring the dam to make sure we mitigated as much risk as possible.”
The Emergency Control Group had one final meeting on Monday at 1:30 p.m. to review the actions of the group and staff and consider changes that may be made for the next emergency.
“We will be putting a report forward to council in July,” Chambers said.
A full assessment of possible damage throughout the municipality hasn’t been completed, Chambers said, however she said staff was not aware of any damage to the Howson Dam as a result of the event.
She also said there were no reports by Public Works of any damage to other infrastructure and no reports of damage in Blyth despite the Blyth Creek being at its highest recorded water level since the MVCA began recording such information 40 years ago.
Huron East, including Brussels, faced some extremely high water levels according to Director of Public Works Barry Mills, however all damage to municipal infrastructure should be handled in-house he said.
“We had a few road washouts, but we were able to deal with most of them on Friday,” he said. “We had one caution overnight, but we were able to handle it the next day.”
Mills said that, in and around the village of Brussels, the Maitland River was high, but wasn’t overflowing its banks. Multiple municipal drains in the Brussels area were at capacity for the duration of the rainfall with water making its way down the watershed.
“There was lying water in and around Brussels,” he said. “We had a few calls, but no emergency calls.”
Mills had a report from one rain gauge that indicated five inches of rain had fallen during the storm.
“We have everything pretty well handled at this point,” he said. “We might have to replace one culvert, but that’s an in-house job and we temporarily repaired it until we can get to it.”