SUNDRE — Hundreds of people from Sundre and beyond marched through town on Sunday afternoon in support of efforts to divert the Red Deer River before it makes another charge up Main Street.
Packing signs and spades, people rallied at the shores of the river and marched up the street to the hotel, chanting, “Get us a permit.”
There, they heard from retired MP Myron Thompson and other members of Save Our Sundre, a group organized earlier this year to lobby federal and provincial governments for permission to move the river back to an older channel before it chews its way through homes and businesses along its west banks.
Holding his shovel high, Calgary resident Louis Melanson, who owns a lot in Riverside RV Park, said his place will be among the first to go if the river floods this year.
“I want to make sure that something happens that we do fix the river, because we don’t want to lose our town,” said Melanson.
The Red Deer River has churned closer to homes and businesses every spring since 2005, when heavy flooding swamped parts of the town and dramatically changed the river’s course, said rancher Cy Newsham, whose family has lived along the river for the past 115 years.
He took part in studies on the river from 1972 until 1981, when the Dickson Dam was built, and is a member of the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance.
“It’s a fast-moving mountain stream that floods depending on weather conditions and it has a history of many different years that goes back to 1915, when it had a flood that tore out the bridges and broke the Great West Logging Company.”
It flooded again for four years straight in the 1950s and the town has been flooded several times since then, said Newsham.
There’s so much snow in the watershed right now, one heavy rainfall would make the 2005 flood look “like a squirt from a water pistol,” said Newsham.
A simple and fairly inexpensive solution has been on the table for years, said SOS member Paddy Munro. Promises have been made, but a long-term solution has not materialized, he said.
“We’ve had quite a battle here, trying to get things figured out and moving.”
Sundre’s biggest obstacle has been getting all the permits it needs from various levels of government, including Fisheries and Oceans Canada and various provincial departments, including environment, public lands and culture.
MLA Ty Lund has indicated his support for SOS’s plans and there are indications that the province will fast track the permitting process as much as possible, said Munro.
“The indications are that the provincial people and the federal people are going to step up to the plate. If they don’t, there’s going to be a picnic with Ed (Premier Stelmach) at the fountains in Edmonton,” he said.
Provided permits and money can be acquired, SOS hopes to build up and armour the riverbank right next to town this fall, he said.
“The SOS group just wants to see a properly engineered and constructed riverbank protection project. We want it done in a tight time frame at a competitive price. It’s not rocket science. It’s not too much to ask.”
He encouraged the group to pressure their elected officials, particularly Mountain View County, for help getting a project underway.
While the Sundre group is working on diverting the river to its older channel, Mountain View County is working now on stabilizing banks upstream. The stabilization project needs fewer permits because the work is being done at the edge of the river rather than in the water, said Reeve Al Kemmere.
The County has committed more than $600,000 for the bank stabilization project, said Kemmere.