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Erosion, flooding push Sicamous-to-Armstrong Rail Trail estimate to $22.9 million

Portion of trail flooded this summer during extended period of high water
Technical experts from Waters Edge Limited assess rising waters and erosion on the rail trail along the Shuswap River this spring for the Sicamous-to-Armstrong rail trail development plan. (Waters Edge Ltd. Photo)

Government partners behind the Sicamous-to-Armstrong Rail Trail face higher-than-expected development costs due to flooding over the summer and ongoing soil erosion.

With the recent completion of technical design work, development of the rail trail is now pegged at an estimate of $22.9 million. A Regional District of the North Okanagan (RDNO) staff report, circulated prior to the Aug. 21 meeting of the trail Governance Advisory Committee, stated the estimate is for a 50-kilometre gravel corridor similar to the Okanagan Rail Trail developed between Coldstream and Kelowna.

“It’s substantially higher than predicted because there’s some major erosion and flooding,” commented said Phil McIntyre-Paul with the Shuswap Trail Alliance, which was contracted to oversee planning and development of the rail corridor.

McIntyre-Paul said was known three years ago, after the trail alliance conducted a preliminary investigation, that there would be issues with erosion in some sections of the trail.

“This spring gave us a chance to see what water was doing – we had fairly high water this year and then it did another unusual thing, it stayed high for a long time… So it allowed us to watch what was happening over an extended period time but it also meant the damage was extended as well,” said McIntyre-Paul.

In addition to the erosion, a section of the trail by Rosemond Lake flooded, and gabion-basket supports set up when the abandoned railway was still in use were found to have failed.

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“So when you start putting all of that together, there’s at least three-and-a-half kilometres of substantial erosion work that has to be done, and then another kilometre of less aggressive but still substantial work,” said McIntyre-Paul.

Factored into the new cost estimate is the building up of areas that could flood based on 10 and 25 year flood levels.

The development cost estimate did not diminish the governance committee’s enthusiasm for the project, said McIntyre-Paul, explaining the work would be done in stages, ideally with funding from upper levels of government.

The Columbia Shuswap Regional District board has yet to formally receive a report on the updated cost estimate, but CSRD administrator Charles Hamilton, who sits on the rail trail technical operational committee, wasn’t entirely pleased with the figure, especially with the fact that it includes a 40 per cent contingency.

“The idea of a budget is to have some measure of accuracy, not adequacy, so it kind of bothers me when the engineers come up with 40 per cent… That really affects your planning and your fundraising and your starting point,” said Hamilton. “What I’d like to see is a little more budget realism.”

That higher cost impacts matching funds local government partners, the CSRD, RDNO and Splatsin, would have to come up with for grant funding opportunities from the provincial or federal governments.

“The problem is we just don’t have the taxing authority under the current bylaw to raise enough money to come up with that $5 million-$6 million figure…,” said Hamilton, adding there is also need to be mindful of tax thresholds and the fact this is a difficult time for many people right now.

McIntyre-Paul said that sensitivity to the current economic climate is being considered in planning that is underway for a fundraising campaign aimed at acquiring the money needed for future grant applications. He said that is expected to launch this fall.

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