Two small cabins on Ocean Beach Esplanade have been ordered to evacuate after heavy rains pushed debris down Whittaker Creek and into the residences.
On Nov. 16, the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) placed an evacuation order on cabins at 2016 and 2022 Ocean Beach Esplanade, after an evacuation alert was issued the day before for more than a dozen properties in the area.
It’s the second time in as many years that the cabins at 2016 and 2022 Ocean Beach Esplanade have been issued evacuation orders following heavy rains. Last year, the order was issued in February 2020 and a culvert for Whittaker Creek was replaced. The owners of the small blue cabin pitched in with neighbours in 2020 and again in October 2021 to hire an excavator to dig out their property and redirect the debris from the creek. They cleared the mouth of the creek, with permission from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), both times.
On the afternoon of Nov. 16, Paul Hollobon, whose family owns the blue cabin at 2016 Ocean Beach Esplanade, said they were able to obtain an excavator permit for one day and the machine should be onsite the next day. He said they’re hoping to use the gap in the weather to clear a substantial amount of the debris.
The SCRD’s Emergency Operations Centre director Gerry Parker authorized the work to proceed in the same manner, based on the previous permits issued by DFO.
“I’m glad everybody’s safe, and I’m glad they’re responding to the urgency of the situation,” Hollobon said. “Yeah, looking forward to getting at least the mouth [of the creek] cleared enough to hopefully withstand some additional debris coming down. I would assume more will come once we get some more rain, so anything we can do now to make the mouth of it accommodate that material, the better. Otherwise, I don’t think those cabins will last.”
Next door Cody Chancellor, a former tenant of 2022 Ocean Beach Esplanade who helps take care of the property, spent more than an hour on Nov. 15 with a shovel in hand to try to rescue some of the goods in the cabin.
“But what’s one shovel against the flow of a river like that?” Chancellor told Coast Reporter the next day.
He said a new tenant was supposed to move in on Nov. 16, but was not able to because of the debris.
On Nov. 15, gravel from the creek pushed its way into the small buildings. In the blue cabin, gravel can be seen on a deck six feet off the ground and inside that same level. About four feet of gravel piled up on the floor of the small brownish-red cabin at 2022 Ocean Beach Esplanade after forcing its way through a door and out another.
“Nobody could stay in either cabin,” Hollobon said, or even gain entry into the blue cabin. “I can’t imagine them being able to survive any more of this – I’m actually shocked that they’re still standing.”
The creek flowed behind and in front of the blue cabin, which was built in the 1950s and is on a cinder block foundation.
“I’m not sure how long it’s going to stay on its foundation. It may just do a faceplant,” he said. “I don’t think either cabin is going to stay there much longer if we don’t get the mouth [of the creek] cleared out, and then ultimately, the culvert.”
Judith Dunford, the owner of the neighbouring cabin at 2028 Ocean Beach Esplanade, also has concerns about the culvert. Her property is not under an evacuation order but an alert, and they are able to continue to work on-site to clear the debris.
“We’ve managed to divert the water,” Dunforth said. “We haven’t been breached, but we’re buried.”
The excavation permit, Dunforth said, is “a band-aid solution” and the owners are calling for more action from the government. She cited historical and ongoing problems with the culvert, which MOTI replaced just last year. “Frankly, this is something that was always going to happen and will continue to happen, unless they take remedial action,” she said.
The culvert beneath Lower Road is eroding, Hollobon told Coast Reporter. He questioned the quality of the replacement of the culvert in 2020.
According to the province’s guidebook for stormwater planning – dated May 2002 and available on the provincial government’s website – “Integrated stormwater solutions require site design practices that … Ensure that the drainage system can safely convey extreme storms (e.g. a 100-year rainfall).”
In a media briefing on Nov. 16, Armel Castellan of Environment Canada said the atmospheric river event of Nov. 13 to 15 was a widespread one-in-50-year event, and a one-in-100-year event in some locations in the province.
Residents raised concerns about the culvert less than a month before the Nov. 15 rainfall event, and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) told Coast Reporter on Nov. 3 that its geotechnical engineer will undertake a site assessment to determine if any further action is needed. On Nov. 17, a MOTI spokesperson said the site visit has been postponed, given issues in other parts of the region after the rains on Sunday and Monday.
The three cabins did receive help from neighbours and people who were passing by, Dunford said.
“They worked so hard, and they really helped us turn the corner with trying to divert the water away from the properties – and they were just random people who were walking down the beach. That just restores your faith in human nature,” she said. “If there is an upside to anything, it’s been that.”
More information and updates will be provided through www.scrd.ca or at 604-885-6800.