SUNDRE — The Town of Sundre will be up the creek — literally — unless the Red Deer River is brought under control, say local citizens.
Nearly 200 people from the town and surrounding area met on Wednesday evening with Save Our Sundre, an ad hoc committee struck by the region’s Chamber of Commerce to deal with spring flooding along the Red Deer River.
“Once it gets away, it will not stop until it hits Snake Hill,” said town resident Jack Morgan, who has seen numerous floods in Sundre since his birth there in 1911.
Morgan said one of the worst was in 1953, when a sudden cold spell was the only thing that saved the town from being completely swamped.
Morgan urged people at the meeting to do everything they can to get the river under control.
“We’ve got enough equipment and enough expertise to put the river back in the channel where it was before. But it isn’t going to do it if you wait for a whole bunch of people from the city that are not interested,” said Morgan.
SOS spokesman Myron Thompson, who emceed the meeting, said action must be taken before mid-May to ensure the area is protected in time for high water season, an ongoing concern for decades.
Erosion and flooding have been especially bad since heavy rains backed the river and its tributaries onto the town’s streets in 2005, he said.
A former Conservative MP who had previously served as a town councillor and then mayor, Thompson urged people at the meeting to form a united front.
He asked the group to press the provincial government for permission to force the river back into the channel it followed before the 2005 flood.
People are fed up with the large volumes of study that have never generated any long term plans to resolve Sundre’s flooding issues, said Thompson.
“There has been no conclusions made over the years. Nothing has happened, no action been taken.
“Ideas have been thrown around and never went anywhere. This is the year it has got to move,” he said.
SOS proposes to start by dredging the river this year, and then set up an ongoing maintenance program to make sure it stays put, he said.
Mountain View County council had, earlier in the day, passed a motion of support for efforts to get the river under control, following a similar motion approved earlier by Sundre town council.
Unlike the town, however, the county will not specifically support rerouting the river without looking at all options available, Reeve Al Kemmere told people gathered for the meeting.
The county cannot legally work in the river itself without the appropriate permits. Engineering reports would be needed to determine impacts upstream and downstream from any excavations made, said Kemmere.
Mountain View County has hired a construction company to armour the banks of the river along the Coal Camp road, which runs alongside the river upstream of Sundre and has come under threat from time to time.
Permits for armouring were not needed because it will not take place in the river itself, said Kemmere.
Thompson said the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which has jurisdiction over navigable waters, has already indicated it would likely support a rechanneling project.
However, he anticipates obstacles from Alberta Environment, which has jurisdiction over water resources in the province.
He said SOS has been working with MLA Ty Lund to convince ministers of relevant departments, including Environment, Infrastructure, Transportation, Sustainable Resource Development and Tourism to approve and help finance rehabilitation of the Red Deer River before it takes another sweep down Main Street.
Sundre businessman Tom Mennear, also a member of SOS, said the committee gathered 180 signatures of support at its Wednesday meeting and has also been going to local homes and businesses for additional support.