Valery Neil and Dan Schmidt are residents who live in the immediate vicinity of the Bennett-Davignon Floodway, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. They are very concerned about the risk of flooding along the Bennett-Davignon Creek Diversion and reached out to saultonline to take a look at the stretch of the floodway near their homes in the Brookfield Ave. and Wallace Terrace area of the city.
Dan Schmidt has been keeping an eye on the floodway since he moved to the area over 4 years ago.
“In September (2016), the water came crashing through here, and got up as high as the red marks (spray painted) on the floodway. A lady that lives along the creek has already had flooding. The creek goes through her back yard. I’ve seen her out there – and she’s 90 years old – trying to clean up the water.” said Dan Schmidt.
“Two years ago, when the water got almost as high as the gas line under the bridge, I was really worried. If a log or piece of wood had hit that gas line, well, – it’s self explanatory. The potential for a disaster that would include evacuations of homes around here, is a real possibility.” said Schmidt.
“The Conservation Authority says they don’t have money for this in their budget, but according to their mandate, they are supposed to be keeping these areas maintained properly. Regular maintenance would have kept this from getting out of control.” said Valery Neil. “Now, you look at this, and there’s a forest growing in the creek.”
“If you go down to the area near second line, where there is a plaque, you will see how nice it is there. It’s all properly kept there.” she said.
“This hasn’t been cleaned or dredged since I moved here 4 years ago.” said Schmidt. “It’s just a matter of time when there is nowhere for the water to go, and we’re at risk of our homes being flooded.”
“The only person to respond was Rhonda (Bateman), from the Conservation Authority, who said that if it floods, it’s beyond the scope of the engineers (design). Well – beyond the scope of the engineer – This tangled mess isn’t supposed to be here. It states on the conservation website that these banks are supposed to kept cleared, in order for the floodway to do what it is supposed to do.” she said.
“All summer, the water was stagnant near the Allen’s Side Road crossing because the flow is greatly reduced.”
“When the water comes flowing through this channel at high capacity, it has nowhere to go, and it comes right up and over the banks here. The water came right up to where we are standing. If this was cleaned properly, this wouldn’t have happened.” said Schmidt.
Schmidt and Neil are concerned about the potential for youngsters who may be attracted to floodway, and fall in when the water is high. “The water gets so deep, that if any kids get into the floodway, they’re going to be in serious trouble.” There is a school yard which is adjacent to the floodway. “In the spring, when the ice is still in the creek, and we get heavy rains, this area has the potential to be a serious risk to children.”
With 12 1/4 kilometres of flood control channels, to maintain, the Sault Ste. Marie Region Conservation Authority encompasses a large geography.
“We have one large dam at Fort Creek and 5 flood control channels, Clarke Creek, Fort Creek Dam reservoir and channel, E. Davignon Creek (second Line at Tim Horton’s), Central Creek, and Bennet-West/ Davignon.” said Rhonda Bateman, General Manager, SSMRCA (Sault Ste. Marie Region Conservation Authority).
‘The SSMRCA owns, operates and maintains the Fort Creek Dam and Reservoir as well as five Flood Control Channels. Flood control services are provided through debris removal, grass cutting, maintenance and repairs to the flood control structures. This maintenance is essential to ensure the unobstructed flow of water from the northern portion of the watershed, through the City of Sault Ste. Marie to the St. Mary’s River.’ (www.ssmrca.ca)
“I understand the issues at the Bennett – West floodway. We are limited by funds and staffing to maintain the flood control infrastructure to where there is no vegetation in the channels. If we had more funds, we could do more.” said Bateman. “We maintain the flood control channels based on a work plan, which is dependent on several things. Need being one of them. This year our focus was on the Fort Creek reservoir.”
Bateman explained, “A Dam Safety Review in 2015, which is an Engineering Report, necessitated that our field work this year, focus on the Fort Creek area. That project took several months.”
“Next year, during our field season, our focus will be on the Bennett-Davignon floodway. We did get a stretch completed of that channel earlier this summer, just south of 2nd Line. We did take out a beaver dam along the Bennett Creek this year as well.”
“We would love to be able to do more, but we are constrained by a limited budget.” The SSMRCA has a year-round staff of 8 people.
“This work (floodway control) isn’t all that we do. We have a weekly grass cutting schedule to prevent growth on the top of the banks and down the sides to allow for water volume capacity. We do this on all of our channels, which takes up a great deal of our time.”
“We have conservation areas that we look after as well. Health and safety maintenance is ongoing. We do our best to maintain these areas to a natural standard.”
“Our work plan for next field season (2017) includes this area of concern.” said Bateman. “It was supposed to be part of this year’s work plan, but when we got the Dam Safety Review back from the engineers, our focus had to shift to the Fort Creek area. I would like to reassure residents in that area, (Bennett-Davignon Creek) that even in 2013, the vegetation that is there now, was there then, when we faced two massive flood events and there was no over-topping of any of our flood structures.”
“In the past, when we have undertaken these large channel cleaning projects, we have had to do it through WECI (Water and Erosion Control Infrastructure Funding), which is 50% MNRF (Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) and 50% (levy) City Funding. In 2014, the city (Sault Ste. Marie) gave us funds to buy an excavator and now we are able to do the work ourselves. We are able to save anywhere from $50,000 – $100,000.” she said. “The MNRF has not increased funding to Conservation Authorities since 1996.”
“We are trying to be fiscally responsible, and the investment that the city made has already paid off in light of the work we have had to do at Fort Creek and at Davignon West.”
“The Davignon -Bennett Creek floodway is a priority for us. Public Safety is one of our prime mandates. The residents in that area can be assured that we are going to be working there during the 2017 field season.”
On November 3rd, Bateman will be making a presentation to Municipal Council. A Strategic Plan has been completed, and, when published in December 2016, will be posted to the SSMRCA website.
‘Historically, municipal and provincial governments shared the costs; every provincial dollar invested was at least match by municipal investment to ensure fair cost sharing of services that benefited the greater public good. Over the past decade the provincial share has been limited to flood control, flood warning and source water protection planning only. Previous provincial funding for conservation areas, recreation and conservation education have been eliminated. The municipal funding has grown to be the majority of the funding source for the SSMRCA. The CA generates revenue from permit fees and land use agreement fees.’ (ssmrca.ca/faq)