Skip to content

Atmospheric river repairs still under way on the Sunshine Coast one year later

Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has spent $9 million on the Coast — so far

A year after a series of atmospheric rivers hit the Sunshine Coast causing widespread damage and forcing the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) to activate an emergency operations centre, repairs and tallying the costs are ongoing. 

In B.C., thousands of people were displaced by localized flooding and highway access was suddenly cut off by landslides in which five people were killed. Coasters shared their harrowing experiences of getting caught between landslides on the mainland. Homes, businesses and agricultural lands were damaged, and supply chains interrupted. Repairs across the province are, likewise, ongoing. Access to Highway 8 was just reopened on Nov. 10. 

READ: Coast residents trapped between landslides now home safe

READ: Gibsons residents lucky to survive fatal mudslide

When the atmospheric river hit the Sunshine Coast on Nov. 13 through 15, it was coming only three weeks behind an offshore cyclone and preceded several more heavy rain events. The emergency operations centre (EOC) was activated on Nov. 15 and stayed in effect until Dec. 2.

During those 18 days, the EOC oversaw an evacuation order and alerts, road closures, boil water advisories and coordinated response to widespread damage. More than 150 people were involved in response efforts on the Sunshine Coast, including local government staff, volunteer firefighters, BC Ambulance, and the RCMP. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI), Capilano Highways, Waste Management, BC Hydro and Fortis BC all pitched in. 

Six of the regional district’s 15 wastewater treatment plants were affected by flooding but were operational. The Chapman water intake had to be cleared multiple times, sometimes in the middle of the night. The temporary service interruption to the main water treatment plant limited supplies. Gas lines and power lines alike were affected and had to be stabilized.

Current projects

In the aftermath of the November 2021 atmospheric rivers, the SCRD identified nine projects that were caused by the damages of the storms. Two of the main categories within the SCRD’s jurisdiction included water infrastructure and parks. Roads fall under the jurisdiction of MOTI.

This week, construction is beginning on a permanent fix to the watermain at the Sechelt Airport, SCRD’s communications manager Aidan Buckley told Coast Reporter via email. That fix had been identified in a January report as the most costly emergency repair (with a budget of upto $250,000). The watermain was temporarily stabilized but requires a lasting fix to ensure long-term stability.

MOTI spends $9 million

There were reports of around 40 locations affected by complete road washouts, erosion, flooding and other unsafe conditions throughout the three weeks of the EOC, and repairs to some areas are still being coordinated. 

To date, MOTI has spent approximately $9 million dollars in response to last year’s atmospheric river weather events on the Sunshine Coast, a ministry spokesperson told Coast Reporter on Nov. 14. And the total cost is continuing to grow as many affected areas on the Coast are still under engineering review and designs have yet to be finalized. 

A timeline for permanent repairs on the Sunshine Coast was not available as the final designs are pending. “For example, washout sites at Day Road, [Redrooffs] Road, and Margaret and Beach Roads are still in the design phase, with construction anticipated next year,” the ministry said. 

Finding funds

The SCRD is in a similar position, as a year after the historic rains and following floods, it does not have a complete dollar amount and assessments and repairs are ongoing. The regional district is continuing to apply for reimbursement from Emergency Management B.C. (EMBC) and other grants. 

In a report to the Oct. 13 board meeting — just days before the election — Kevin Clarkson, the manager of parks services, presented a grant application for up to $470,033 to repair the damages at three local parks. The SCRD is seeking the funds from the Natural Infrastructure Fund for: Chaster Park pedestrian access bridge repair at $241,319 and flood resiliency, Cliff Gilker Park’s trails and bridges up to $190,805 and Katherine Lake Park and Campground at $37,909. If granted, the funds will be used to “recover damages incurred during 2021 flooding and also to invest in resiliency improvements that will protect the infrastructure and assets from similar events and damages in the long term,” the report states.

This fund will cover up to 80 per cent of eligible expenditures to a maximum of $250,000 per project. If the grant application is successful, the estimated unfunded amount is $3,562 for the Cliff Gilker Park project and $22,211 for the Chaster Park pedestrian access bridge repair and flood resiliency project. Another report is expected to be presented to the SCRD Board when the estimated costs are finalized and with the status of the grant.

Lessons learned

At the time of the atmospheric river, the SCRD was still developing its localized emergency alert app and launched the service just four days after the EOC was called off. The SCRD’s Voyent Alert now has 2,497 subscribers, as of Nov. 15 (2022). The regional district is also redesigning its website to make ongoing and consistent emergency updates easier to find, such as in the event of boil water notices and the need to clear culverts.

Recently, local government staff on the Coast attended a full day of training on EOC essentials. “This session was well attended and ensured that further capacity building is taking place for future emergency events,” Buckley said. “The SCRD has also hired a full-time emergency coordinator since the atmospheric river event took place.”

As for MOTI, the ministry’s statement said it “recognizes the work that needs to be done to address the impacts of climate change to infrastructure on the Sunshine Coast. With any highway infrastructure work planned around the province, it’s now a requirement for the ministry’s design engineers to consider climate change and what can be done to make our roads and bridges more resilient. We continue to work to identify priority areas for improving and upgrading stormwater management on the Sunshine Coast in coordination with the regional district and our municipal partners.” 

The SCRD also credits the collaborative efforts of various staff and volunteers. 

“This event caused a significant amount of damage to infrastructure on the Sunshine Coast and while the initial focus was on the emergency response, the event has also highlighted the amount of resources and work that is required in the recovery after the event,” the SCRD’s statement said. “This event led to unprecedented impacts on communities across the Province. What it showed us is the success that can be gained through a coordinated emergency response approach.”