A Swansea Point resident moves debris from his yard to the destroyed road fronting his property following the 2012 debris flow.                                File photo

A Swansea Point resident moves debris from his yard to the destroyed road fronting his property following the 2012 debris flow. File photo

A history that should not be repeated

Meaningful political action may be what’s needed to lessen the odds of Swansea Point experiencing yet another devastating debris flow.

The observation that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it is somewhat fitting when it comes to this small Mara Lake community, whose residents find themselves reminding local and provincial government officials of the area’s history of natural disasters so as to avoid another.

In our March 22 issue, we broke the story of Tolko Industries Ltd.’s 11 cutblocks proposed for the uplands above Swansea Point, and the concerns of Lois and Dave Schurek and others who are residents of the community below. The Schureks are seeking a moratorium on the proposed logging – and any logging near populated areas – that could erode soil stability and create ideal conditions for mudslides and/or debris flows, such as the two damaging debris flows that occurred in Swansea Point in 1997 and 2012.

“There is no question that we’re going to have this again,” said Lois Schurek.

Since this story was published, I’ve been exchanging emails with Swansea Point residents Tina and Dan Keely, who have provided me with numerous documents that appear to give weight to the concern that further logging the uplands is not a good idea.

Tina (and the Schureks) explained that prior to the 1997 debris flow, a company called Riverside Forest Products (taken over by Tolko in 2004) had been logging above Swansea Point. Following the destructive event, Tina says some 16 reports were commissioned by the province.

“In every copy to date, it states the cutblocks in that 1996/1997 contract with Riverside were to be completely canceled as it was revealed the geotechnical makeup of the soil in the vicinity of this watershed system should never be altered again because of the washout tendency and needed root base trees for stability of the ground,” said Tina.

One of these reports, the 2003 Hummingbird Creek Debris Flow Decision Analysis by Klohn Crippen, commissioned by what was then the Ministry of Transportation, makes a fairly clear link between “man-made influences” and slides/debris flows, stating “there is an ongoing risk of slope failures in or above Mara and Hummingbird gullies.”

“Overall, there have been an estimated six to 10 damaging debris flow or flood events in the last 75 years… Future frequency is expected to increase due to hydrological evidence and continued anthropogenic development.”

Columbia Shuswap Regional District directors have since added their voice to the Schureks’ call for a moratorium on logging near Swansea Point.

My hope is the B.C. government values its citizens more than corporate political donations, and will show it has learned from Swansea Point’s history of natural disasters by doing all it can to prevent another repeat.