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Clarenville council takes steps to prevent flooding from Shoal Harbour River

Shoal Harbour River on Friday, March 15.
Shoal Harbour River on Friday, March 15. - Jonathan Parsons

SHOAL HARBOUR, N.L. – It’s an issue that threatens to cause serious damage at a moment’s notice.

This winter, for residents of Riverview Extension in Shoal Harbour, the possibility of Shoal Harbour River flooding their homes and causing significant trouble is a looming problem.

At the Clarenville council meeting on Tuesday, March 12, council discussed the options to best prevent any such damage from happening.

Chief administrative officer David Harris said they first received complaints in January from homeowners in the Riverview subdivision about ice build-up in the turn in the river.

“The main concern is flooding if we have a mass thaw or heavy rainfall,” said Harris.

After the initial complaint Harris says he and director of external operations, Rick Wells, reached out to the department of municipal affairs and environment for direction on how to mitigate the issue.

However, as of Tuesday night, they didn’t have a definitive solution.

In the past, when ice build-up posed a threat, they stationed an excavator near the river to be able to remove it at a moment’s notice – most prominently at the more accessible location near the upper Shoal Harbour River bridge.

This year, with ice build-up predominantly near the bend in the river behind Riverview Extension, there is no clear route to the river itself for a large-scale excavator to work from the shoreline.

To get the machine to the area it needs to access, it would likely have to go through someone’s yard, possibly damaging the area, and would require the removal of some trees. However, Coun. Heber Smith says he was talking to people on the street and at least one volunteered to allow the machinery to go through his property.

Harris added the provincial government would have to be notified of any work done on the river, along with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), because it is a scheduled salmon river.

Over the last week, Wells has consulted the Town of Badger’s fire chief, DFO and fire and emergency services for guidance.

Smith recommended they should be proactive.

“My thought on it is, I don’t know if we can be proactive with (the department of) fisheries and if we’re going to get a big rainfall … and have someone lined up and say, ‘We may need you if the water levels get so far.’”

Council decided to contact a contractor within the community who owns an excavator big enough for the job to hopefully ensure they can respond to any pending problem ahead of time while monitoring the weather forecast.

Council also approved permission for Wells to follow up with DFO and get the go-ahead to proceed with work, if warranted.

“We need to have (some comfort) for our residents who are gravely concerned about what can happen and the fact that we have something in mind to take care of the situation,” concluded Mayor Frazer Russell.

Past ice problems in Shoal Harbour River

One of the last times there was troublesome ice build-up in the river – when council dispatched an excavator to free up the ice – was in 2014.

Going back further, on March 12, 2009, The Packet published an article on the damage created after heavy rains and a quick thaw wreaked havoc on the streets of Clarenville, creating enormous potholes and washouts, as well as creating problems at Shoal Harbour River.

A huge piece of ice actually came down river and rafted along the bank at the bridge abutments.

At one point it looked as though the ice and heavy debris would jam under the bridge. The force of the ice flow was evident by the debris that came down the river. Amongst the ice were pieces of bushes and trees; including one large tree that had been uprooted as the ice came downstream, and was swept along to the bridge.

While the town had workers keep watch late into the night, there was no major flooding on this occasion and the water receded and was back to normal after a couple of days. However, the water line reached the backyards on Riverview Extension.

Flooding was a more serious problem before the upper Shoal Harbour Bridge was replaced with a wider, higher structure.

In the late 1980s, Shoal Harbour had to declare a state of emergency one spring when the ice jammed up at the old bridge. The backed-up water flooded practically all the homes on Riverview Drive Extension.

In that case, the Emergency Measures Organization (EMO) was called and they blasted the jam with dynamite.

Now, council is discussing dredging or other solutions in the summer in an effort to prevent this from happening in the future.

Twitter: @jejparsons

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