Coun. Peter Wainwright says Sidney has to prepare its infrastructure, including the pump station in Reay Creek, for more climatic events such as the recent storm that caused extensive flooding in the area. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Coun. Peter Wainwright says Sidney has to prepare its infrastructure, including the pump station in Reay Creek, for more climatic events such as the recent storm that caused extensive flooding in the area. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

How well did Sidney’s infrastructure perform during major storm, councillor asks

Advice on future infrastructure priorities will inform upcoming budget talks: Peter Wainright

Sidney council wants staff to report back prior to 2022 budget deliberations on the state of municipal infrastructure in the wake of the recent heavy rainfall event.

Staff are tasked with assessing the performance of the municipality’s stormwater system, and advising whether Sidney should give higher priority to related infrastructure projects.

Council passed the measure unanimously after Coun. Peter Wainwright had filled a notice of motion.

“The first thing I would say is that I have a great deal of confidence in our staff planning to deal with things like this, but at the moment, they have been dealing with the response (to the event),” Wainwright said in an interview prior to the vote.“They are probably getting out from under that now. I think my notice of motion was more to provide a bit of a wake-up call for all of my colleagues. If you are not considering this stuff, with budget coming up, maybe we should be.”

Wainwright also hopes his motion alerts colleagues to likely changes in the allocation of grants by senior governments.

“They are undoubtedly going to be spending a lot of their resources on rebuilding and they are probably going to be prioritizing a lot of these other funding opportunities toward climate (change) resilience,” he said.

Such a shift might mean more future grant opportunities if the municipality is prepared to take advantage of them, he noted. “On the other hand, it may mean it would be quite a bit harder to get senior government funding assistance for other types of projects, like a roundabout at Galaran Road and Beacon Avenue (as part of the new Amazon development) or like Beacon Wharf.”

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Heavy rain over two days in mid-November caused flooding in parts of Sidney, especially in the residential neighbourhood around Reay Creek and Reay Creek Park itself. Flooding impacted local basements and damaged a bridge (since repaired) over the creek while damaging the path along it. The municipality also issued an appeal Nov. 15 encouraging residents to limit use of domestic water because the municipal sewer and storm drainage systems were reaching capacity.

“All things considered, we did reasonable,” said Wainwright, adding the dam forming Reay Creek pond held up quite well. With heavy rain events predicted by experts to come more often, he said, the question is how well Sidney would deal with a worse storm.

Wainwright also wants staff to report on how close Sidney’s infrastructure came to reaching capacity. He purposely left such questions until after the crisis had abated, but noted that little information has been forthcoming.

“They shared a couple of photos, like the one of the Frost (Avenue) pump station, but we actually haven’t had any report. So I’m asking for whatever they can give us before budget and I don’t even know how easy it is for staff to tell us something like this.”

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Wainwright said he appreciates that staff might not able to produce detailed answers in the requested time frame, with budget talks scheduled to start in late January. But anything helps, he said. “Overall, I simply am in a vacuum, and that’s not a good way going forward in making budget decisions.

Part of his motivation to bring the motion forward was the difficulty for some people to get flood insurance. “And even where it is available, it is relatively expensive,” he said. “It would not be good for Sidney properties if we had a high frequency of basement flooding relative to other places. I don’t know for sure, but it could influence insurance rates.”

It may be time to update existing plans for the storm drainage system, he said. “We’ve got computer modelling, we know what capacity is like, we know where have to expand it to deal with growth and things like that. But all of that work was done before the current climate (change) awareness.”

Sidney may also have to re-think protocols (such as opening up cooling stations) to deal with harmful climatic events like the heat dome that covered large parts of B.C. in the summer of 2021, Wainwright added.

He also voiced concerns about how the municipality’s storm and sewer system will co-exist with the effects of more frequent, more intense storms on Sidney’s watershore. “That (more intense storms impacted the waterfront) is probably going to be quite expensive. It will affect waterfront property owners and it will affect quite a bit of the Town’s infrastructure – our parks, our walkways, all of that.”

Investing in storm sewers and say, sidewalks is not an either-or choice, Wainwright said. But the municipality may to have to bring some climate change-related projects to the forefront, while pushing others back.

During Monday’s council meeting Coun. Chad Rintoul said the municipality has a responsibility to ensure its infrastructure evolves in the face of these challenges, while questioning the timing of the request and the workload facing staff.

Chief administrative officer Randy Humble said staff will provide as much detail as possible prior to budget talks. The public also heard that staff is recommending a stormwater management study in 2022.

“That will give us a leg up on what to do,” said Jenn Clary, Sidney’s director of engineering. Staff also recently completed a pump station assessment, she added. “So we do have all that information and we are working it into future budgets. It’s not completely wrapped up in our current asset management plan, but we are in the works of it.”

Council, she added, has also approved recurring funding to help future heavy rain events from impacting the sewer system.

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